Don Barry Describes Starving the Beast
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Recently, former assistant secretary at the Interior Department and current executive vice president at The Wilderness Society, Don Barry, spoke at the Association of National Park Rangers' annual conference. He described a right-wing program to systematically shrink the size of the federal government, called "starve the beast," that he says has detrimental effects on land-management agencies. This is a 3 minute excerpt from a much longer keynote address.
Conservative politicians have a very specific philosophy about the federal government. They hate it. They think it ought to be small. They want to dismantle it.
I grew up a fire-breathing young conservative republican. I supported Goldwater, even though I thought he was soft on Communism. (Laughter) I know the way these people think!
It is known as "starve the beast". If you can't dismantle the federal government, starve it. Have tax breaks so the federal government runs out of money. Next thing you know, you can't fund the federal programs, you can't fund the federal employees, you watch the programs you can't dismantle directly wither indirectly. And this has had a tremendous crippling impact throughout the federal agencies, particularly the land managing agencies.
I was talking to some folks in the Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge system was facing a 20% staffing cut. 20 percent staffing cut in the refuge system under this administration's budget. Now, that's not going to happen. It's not going to happen with Norm Dicks as the House Appropriations [Interior] Subcommittee Chairman. But, that's what they were facing.
I talked to the regional director of the Southeast region for the Fish and Wildlife Service a year and a half ago. They had over 400 unfilled FTEs (full-time employees) in the Southeast region alone, in the refuge system. It's all part of "starve the beast". If you can't kill it, starve it. And you've seen the same things happening within the National Park system as well.
Now, three years ago, a guy who I have tremendous respect for and a number of you probably have worked with, Bob Lamb, when he was Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Management and Budget, Bob is a career guy, was given the Presidential Rank award for just the best meritorious service in the entire Department of the Interior, Bob told me about three years ago that they had done some estimates on the aging of the Interior Department workforce. And I could be wrong on these numbers, but I think Bob told me three years ago they were predicting that close to 40% of the employees in the Department of the Interior would be eligible for retirement within 5 years. 40 percent.
Now you know what is happening to your budgets. You are not being allowed to hire to keep pace with the people that are retiring and leaving. And so what's happening is that the work force is being eroded from within, your budgets are withering, and you know what else is then going to happen: The conservative mantra is first you starve the feds and then you say, "well they can't get the job done anymore, so we gotta contract it out". Gotta contract it out and privatize.
So it is all part of the same thing that is happening. And when I look through the Fish and Wildlife Service ranks, because I was an instructor at the National Wildlife Refuge Academy for 15 years even when I was Assistant Secretary, I could see the declining numbers of people going through the refuge academy. And I would bet the same thing is happening within the National Park system.
So what you have are two things, it is like a perfect storm hitting the park system all at once. You've got this tidal wave of retirements heading your way, and you've got a dwindling number of new people coming in. It is creating a real drain, and a real deplenishment of people that are going to be prepared to take over when that 40% retire and walk out the door. You've got fewer and fewer entry level positions, shrinking bench strength in the middle, and the question then is: How do we maintain the programs you care so much about, and how do we keep the park system afloat?