Statement of Tom Kiernan

Congressional Testimony

Statement of
Thomas C. Kiernan
President of the National Parks Conservation Association

Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C.

April 16, 2001

   The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) is pleased to share its views regarding the programs in the Department of Interior's budget that affect national park resources and requests that this statement be included in the hearing record for the FY02 Interior and Related Agencies appropriations bill. NPCA is requesting an increase of $120 million over the current spending levels, for a total of $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2002 for the operation of the National Park System (ONPS). Further detail on this request follows.

   NPCA is the only national nonprofit conservation organization that advocates exclusively for the National Parks. Through public education, advocacy, and citizen outreach, NPCA works to protect, preserve, and enhance America's National Park System for present and future generations.

   NPCA appreciates the opportunity to share with you our priorities for funding and we respectfully request the Committee consider these views as you shape the FY02 budget for the Department of Interior and Related Agencies.

   The National Park System faces many challenges. For decades, the National Park Service (NPS) has lacked the funds needed to manage adequately the wildlife, landscapes, and historic and cultural artifacts protected within the NPS. The Park Service's own research has shown that not a single park has completed inventory of its plants, animals and historic artifacts; the Park Service cannot control invasive species on 93 percent of its lands that suffer from exotics; 63 percent of the threatened and endangered species in the national parks are expected to decline in the next five years; and 67 percent of the cultural artifacts in the Park System are in poor condition.

   During the past three years, a series of detailed park budget studies by NPCA and the NPS have revealed just how deeply decades of funding shortfalls have eroded the Park Service's capacity to protect our nation's parks. Called the Business Plan Initiative (BPI), these studies team graduate students from the nation's top business and government management schools with park managers to analyze park administrative and financial needs. Studies and business plans have been completed for two dozen national parks. BPI has identified two fundamental problems: 1) park operations suffer an annual funding shortfall of at least 35 percent, or about $600 million annually; and 2) the money the Park Service does receive is not used as strategically as it could be, emphasizing short-term visitor needs over long-term park protection.

   Upon examination of President Bush's submitted budget proposal for fiscal year 2002, NPCA finds that it fails to balance legitimate needs for reducing the infrastructure and maintenance related backlog with longstanding shortfalls in the daily operations needs of the parks, especially in the areas of resource protection and visitor education.

   A strong financial commitment by both Congress and the Bush Administration is desperately needed to protect and enhance our national parks, not just for the roads and buildings that serve the visitor experience, but for the natural and cultural treasures that are the raison d'être of the parks' designation. To this end, NPCA recommends the following budget priorities and associated funding levels for the National Parks Service in fiscal year 2002:

Operation of the National Park System

   NPCA is pleased the Administration has increased the budget request for the operation of the National Park System in its fiscal year 2002 request. However, the increase of $79 million is far from sufficient to meet the growing demands and needs of the increasingly stressed national park units. Furthermore, $46 million of this increase represents fixed cost increases for employee salaries (covering approximately 75 percent of the real cost impact of grade changes and cost of living adjustments) and $20 million is dedicated to the Natural Resource Challenge. This leaves only $13 million in new spending for the operation of our national park system.

   NPCA requests significant increases to the operation of the National Park System to be introduced over time, with an additional $600 million in operations by fiscal year 2006, a figure in line with the conclusions from the two dozen business plans completed to date. For fiscal year 2002, NPCA proposes an increase of $120 million over the enacted FY01 budget, for a total of $1.5 billion in FY02 for operation of the ONPS. Of this amount, at least 55 percent should be used to protect park plants, animals, and historic and cultural artifacts and to improve park interpretation. Remaining funds can be allocated to reducing maintenance backlog.

   NPCA recommends the following breakdown for the additional $120 million in FY02 for system-wide resource protection needs:

  • Base budget increase for 24 parks with needs identified in existing business plans
$50 million
  • Natural Resource Challenge
$20 million
  • Other high priority natural and cultural resource projects identified by NPS
$50 million

Natural Resources Challenge

   NPCA strongly supports the Administration's continued commitment to fund the Natural Resources Challenge—a multi-year program to strengthen natural resources management in the National Park Service. This program calls for expanded natural resources inventory programs to give the Park Service critically needed information for resource management within the parks. NPCA supports the Administration's request of $20 million for FY02 to continue this important program.

Construction and Maintenance

   The Bush Administration has proposed $440 million in FY02 for construction and maintenance to address the National Park Service maintenance backlog. However, on close inspection of the budget request, it appears that $100 million of this amount is derived from Recreation Fees and is not new funding. The $61 million in additional funding for FY02 represents a real increase of just over one percent of the $4.9 billion backlog that the President has promised to eliminate over the next five years.

   Finally, Congress and the Administration should adopt a framework for increasing NPS budgets that holds the Service accountable to targets for improved resource protection. This includes increasing the financial expertise of park staff and generating business plans for all parks.

   Thank you for your consideration of our views. NPCA greatly appreciates the Committee's past support for our national parks and we look forward to continuing to work with you to protect America's parks as the fiscal year 2002 budget process moves forward.


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