Posts tagged ‘National Park Service’

More Shutdown Theater

From the Washington Examiner.  Because tenants have to be evicted when their landlord goes on paid vacation.

National Park Service officials cited the government shutdown as the reason for ordering an elderly Nevada couple out of their home, which sits on federal land.

"Unfortunately overnight stays are not permitted until a budget is passed and the park can reopen," an NPS spokesman explained to KTNV.

Ralph and Joyce Spencer, aged 80 and 77, respectively, own their home, but the government owns the land on which it sits.

"I had to be sure and get his walker and his scooter that he has to go in," Joyce Spencer told the local news outlet. "We're not hurt in any way except it might cost me if I have to go buy more pants."

Of course, I am in the exact same position

Government Closing Parks It Does Not Fund or Operate

I mentioned in an earlier article that the Administration is threatening to close US Forest Service parks it does not even fund or run, privately operated parks that happen to have the Federal government as a landlord.  In fact, in our case, we pay the US Forest Service between 8 and 22 percent of revenues as a concession fee, so by threatening to close us it is costing them, not saving them extra money.

Apparently, the NPS is already doing this:

National Park Officials closed down the educational Claude Moore Colonial Farm near the CIA in McLean, Va., even though the federal government doesn't fund or staff the park popular with children and schools. Just because the privately-operated park is on Park Service land, making the federal government simply its landlord, the agency decided to close it.

A Claude Moore Colonial Farm official said that the privately-funded staff is on the job Wednesday, but barred from letting anybody visit the historically accurate buildings or animals. Anna Eberly, the managing director, sent out an email decrying the decision and rude National Park Service staff handling the closure.

Pointing to Park Service claims that parks have to be closed because the agency can’t afford staff during the government closure, Eberly wrote: “What utter crap. We have operated the Farm successfully for 32 years after the NPS cut the Farm from its budget in 1980 and are fully staffed and prepared to open today. But there are barricades at the Pavilions and entrance to the Farm. And if you were to park on the grass and visit on your own, you run the risk of being arrested. Of course, that will cost the NPS staff salaries to police the Farm against intruders while leaving it open will cost them nothing.”

She added: “In all the years I have worked with the National Park Service, first as a volunteer for six years in Richmond where I grew up, then as an NPS employee at the for eight very long years and now enjoyably as managing director for the last 32 years — I have never worked with a more arrogant, arbitrary and vindictive group representing the NPS. I deeply apologize that we have to disappoint you today by being closed but know that we are working while the National Park Service is not — as usual.”

This is purely political -- it costs rather than saves the government money.

Turning Cellular Phone Networks into Common Carriers

Hey, why make expensive investments when the government will just give you access to your competitor's infrastructure?

Federal Communications Commission has decided to mandate data roaming by a 3-2 vote. Simply put, major carriers like AT&T and Verizon will be required to let you check your email and perform VoIP calls over their federally-licensed airwaves even if you're actually paying a regional carrier for your cellular coverage instead -- just as they've been required to do for voice and messaging since 2007. As you can imagine, Big Red and Ma Bell aren't exactly jumping for joy at the news, with both threatening to slow expansion into niche markets if they'll be forced to share their infrastructure. The victorious members of the FCC claim that this doesn't constitute common carriage because the big boys still get to negotiate "commercially reasonable" rates. Considering that two dissenting commissioners say that it is, indeed, common carriage, though, and thus beyond the powers granted to the FCC, we imagine we haven't heard the last of this debate.

By the way,  the commercially reasonable rate piece is so much BS.  I can say from experience that there is no such thing as a true price negotiation when one party is forced to make a deal.  In one of my great moments in not reading the fine print, I signed a commercial lease with the National Park Service in which the fine print demanded that I buy the personal property used in that operation from the former tenant.

Well, you can imagine what happened.  The contract said I had to buy it at a reasonable market price, but at the end of the day, if they guy insisted on selling me a pile of useless junk for $100,000, my negotiation options were limited because I could not just walk away.  Just to really hammer the lesson home to me about being careful in such deals in the future, the former tenant really went the extra mile in taking advantage of the provision.  He stripped out every good asset from the operation and shipped in every non-working piece of junk equipment he could find in his other operations -- after all, I seem to have given him an open-ended "put".  Only his, shall we say, excessive creativity in the latter eventually saved me, as trying to sell property from other operations (there was even some old couches from someone's house sitting in the boat repair shed) was considered by the NPS to be a violation of the rules and they eventually released me from the requirement.

Observation on the Government Shut Down

From a commenter at Instapundit

It seems to me that whenever there is a threat of a government shutdown, it’s portrayed as just this side of a tsunami-level disaster. When government workers – teachers, sanitation workers, etc – go on strike, it’s portrayed as the middle-class worker sticking up for himself. Why is it that a government shut-down caused by a desire to spend less money is different than a government shutdown caused by workers failing to do their jobs – isn’t the effect the same?

Its been a long day here.  As many of your know, my company privately operates public recreation facilities.  We operate nearly 150 campgrounds and other parks on US Forest Service land, helping to reduce the cost of these facilities and keep them open despite declining budgets.

Because we pay all the expenses for the campgrounds and do not accept any government money (we operate solely using the gate fees paid by visitors), keeping these facilities open is not at all dependent on government appropriations.  As such, the facilities we operate have never been subject to closure in past government shut downs.  The Grand Canyon has to close because it is operated with government employees, but the public recreation areas we operate do not.

Or at least that was the position of the Forest Service until last night.  However, this morning, the USFS began to take the position we had to close, despite the fact that the law does not require it.  Through most of the day I have had to be on the phone pushing back against this bad idea.

At first, I thought it was some sort of scheme to purposefully make the cost of the shutdown worse, by shutting down public recreation facilities that did not need to be shut down.  However, I have come to understand that this is likely driven by a need for "consistency."  Senior administration officials were concerned it would be confusing to the public if the National Park Service was totally closed but a substantial number of US Forest Service sites remained open.  I have spent a lot of time trying to convince folks that it was dumb to close literally thousands of the most popular recreation sites in the country merely in the name of mindless consistency.

Hopefully we will win the day, and we are starting to see some evidence the Forest Service will see it our way, and allow private operators who do not take Federal money or use Federal employees to remain open serving the public during the busy Easter week.

Who Knew The Great Zombie Invasion Was This Easy to Thwart?

Via the Washington Post and Hit and Run

The National Park Service says it has no permit filed for zombie activity at the Lincoln Memorial Tuesday morning by AMC, a posse of zombies, or anyone else.

Wow, that was easy to stop.  And here I thought government permitting and licensing requirements were counter-productive.  Chalk one up for the statists.

When Funding Battles Trump Mission

Some Federal agencies are able to maintain their mission over many decades without much change from administrations that come and go.  The National Park Service is a good example.

Other agencies, in the desire to get funding, constantly recast their mission based on whatever flavor of the month is hot.  Here was one example I cited before, from the NIH, which, amazingly, managed to recraft its mission in the context of climate change to make itself more immediately relevent to the Obama folks:

Remember, the point of this all is not science, but funding.  This is basically a glossy budget presentation, probably cranked out by some grad students over some beers, tasked to come up with scary but marginally plausible links between health issues and climate change.   Obama has said that climate is really, really important to him.  He has frozen a lot of agency budgets, and told them new money is only for programs that supports his major initiatives, like climate change.  So, every agency says that their every problem is due to climate change, just as every agency under Bush said that they were critical to fighting terrorism.  This document is the NIH salvo to get climate change money, not actual science.

I have worked with the US Forest Service for years as a private operator of many of their recreation sites (for whatever faults they might have, they have been an early innovator on privatization -- without it, they could never have kept all their recreation sites open given their budget constraints).  The USFS has always had a mission challenge.  They are specifically tasked with balancing five missions -- Environmental preservation, timber, minerals extraction, recreation, and ... I can't remember the other one.  Grazing maybe.

In practice, this has meant of late that whatever interest groups among these five who are willing to spend the most time in court are able to shape the USFS mission in their direction, and in practice this has meant environmental groups.  As a result, Timber, the main source of USFS funding (from private timber fees) has pretty much been killed in the USFS, creating a funding crisis.  With their very logical timber mission gone, the only thing the USFS is unique at is recreation, as it is (surprising to many people) the largest recreation organization in the world.  However, this seems to be next on the environmentalists' target list.

So I suppose it is no surprise that the US Forest Service has decided to abandon any sense of long-term mission and simply glom onto whatever is the pet issue of the current administration.  For this year, they have latched onto climate:

The Forest Service has issued a national road map for responding to climate change, along with a performance scorecard to measure how well each individual forest implements the strategy.The new blueprint outlines a series of short-term initiatives and longer-term projects for field units to address climate impacts on the country's forests and grasslands.

"A changing global climate brings increased uncertainties to the conservation of our natural resources," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "The new roadmap and scorecard system will help the Forest Service play a leadership role in responding to a changing climate and ensure that our national forests and grasslands continue to provide a wide range of benefits to all Americans."

The last sentence could be rewritten as "we will continue to do everything we have done in the past but relabel as much as we can as having to do with climate change."

I can only speak to the recreation component, but this is the largest recreation organization in the world.  In some sense this new mission is roughly equivalent to the National Park Service hypothetically announcing in the Bush administration that it was going to focus on the war on terror.  In many areas of the USFS they, at their own admission, have years or decades of deferred maintenance.  From watching them at close range, they very clearly don't have the resources to handle the missions they have already taken on, and so it is going to dedicate its resources to this:

Immediate assessment actions include providing basic and applied science to help managers respond to climate change, conducting workshops, utilizing national monitoring networks, furnishing more predictive information, developing vulnerability assessments, tailoring monitoring and aligning service policy and direction.

Longer-term assessment will focus on expanding the agency's capacity for assessing the social impacts of climate change, implementing a genetic resources conservation strategy and fortifying internal climate change partnerships.

To the extent that some of this means "monitor forest health," I thought the organization was already doing that.  As to the value of the rest of this stuff?  Forgetting for a minute if the work should even be undertaken, under what possible allocation of expertise in the Federal bureaucracy does "assessing the social impacts of climate change" fall under the purview of the Forest Service?

Paging Frédéric Bastiat

The US Forest Service is using a million dollars of its stimulus money to ... fix broken windows! How appropriate.  But these are not any broken windows -- these are energy inefficient windows for a visitor center that was closed two years ago and for which no budget exists now or in the future to reopen.   Beyond the nuttiness of building a multi-million dollar visitor center, then closing it only a few years after it was built, and then spending a million dollars on its abandoned carcass, no one was available to explain how energy efficient windows will save money in a building that shouldn't be using any energy any more.  Remember, for this spending to truly be stimulative, the money has to be spent more productively than it would have been in whatever private hands it was in before the government took it.

But even forget the stimulus question and just consider the issue of resource allocation.   I work on or near US Forest Service lands in many parts of the country, and know that their infrastructure is falling apart.  Congress loves to appropriate money for new facilities (like shiny new visitor centers), but never wants to appropriate money for capital maintenance and replacements of existing facilities.  So there are plenty of needs for an injection of $274 million in capital improvement money.  And I know that the USFS has had teams of people working for 6 months on their highest priorities.  And after all that work, they allocated  almost a half percent of their funds on upgrading windows in an abandoned building?

Postscript: I have vowed not to write about the US Forest Service because I interact with them so much and such interactions would not be improved by my dissing on them online [I am in the business of privitizing the mangement of public recreation and am constantly working to convince the USFS and other recreation providers to entrust more to private companies.  One thing many people don't know -- the USFS is by far the largest public recreation provider in the world, far larger than the National Park Service or the largest state park systems].  However, I feel on safe ground here, as I think virtually every frontline USFS employee I know would agree with this post and be equally angry.  In recreation at least, this is an organization that begs and pleads to get a few table scraps left over after the National Park Service is done eating, and it is crazy that they spend the few scraps they get this poorly.

Is That A Gun, Or Are Your Just Happy To See Me?

I say a sign the other day at the airport that full-body millimeter-wave imaging was coming soon to the Phoenix airport.  I guess this was pretty inevitable, and has certainly been predicted in many movies, including Total Recall:
Totalrecallxrayscene

I can't really decide if this is any more invasive and humiliating than what we already do, ie get undressed, put our medications and creams in clear plastic bags for all to inspect, and subject ourselves to full-body pat downs.  For my part, based on this and numerous other humiliations, I am working as hard as I can to minimize how often I fly.  JD Tuccille has more, and observes that body cavity searches aren't just for airplanes any more:

If you think that air travel is starting to resemble a very-expensive
East Germany-nostalgia tour and you'd prefer a less-intrusive
alternative, you might consider traveling by train. Well, except, not
on Amtrak, which implemented random bag searches, armed guards and bomb-sniffing dogs earlier this year.

Even local travel is iffy, since New York City has been subjecting subway passengers to annoying searches for the past three years. Los Angeles's MetroLink implemented a similar policy this week, apparently just so officials there wouldn't feel left out. Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell told the Los Angeles Times

As a postscript, I had a meeting the other day with the National Park Service in Denver.  To get inside - remember this is the park service, no other agency shares this building - I had to give up my driver's license, have all my bags searched, and go through an X-ray machine.  Does anyone think that maybe we have lost some perspective when I have to go through full-on invasive security to discuss merchandising at a gift shop?

Our First National Park Service Contract

Why blog if you can't engage in a little personal vanity?  Our company just won our first contract with the National Park Service, to run the Elk Creek Marina and other facilities on Blue Mesa Reservoir in the Curecanti National Recreation Area in Colorado.

Woohoo.