A Sobering Memo: National Parks Prepare for Sequestration

NPS Director Jon Jarvis in Yorktown, Virginia. | Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Flickr/Creative Commons License

If the sequester takes effect Friday -- and all signs seem to point to that -- the National Park Service, like most all federal agencies, will face severe cuts. With such major change comes words from leadership. Over the weekend, Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversees the Department of the Interior (where National Parks are housed), sent out his memo priming staff for what is likely to come.

How will sequestration affect each of the National Parks in California? Learn here.

Then on Tuesday, it was National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis' turn, no easy task for a 37-year veteran of the agency. KCET's SoCal Wanderer has obtained his memo and presents it in full below.

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February 26, 2013

Memorandum

To:         All National Park Service Employees
From:       Director /s/ Jonathan B. Jarvis
Subject:    Update on Preparations for Potential Sequestration

While there is a slim possibility that Congress will reach an agreement that eliminates the need for sequestration and the senseless, across-the-board budget cuts that it will impose, with the March 1 deadline only days away we must finalize our plans, be ready to implement them, and prepare for the resulting impacts on our visitors, our partners, our parks and programs, and on each and every employee.

Sequestration requires the National Park Service to take a five percent -- $134 million -- reduction in the funds we expected, and it must happen in the remaining seven months of this fiscal year.  We have few options and even less flexibility.  No park or program is immune, and each was required to submit a plan of how the cut would be taken and the impacts that would result.  This was a tough assignment and I appreciate everyone stepping up to get it done.  A review of the plans Service-wide offers a grim reality of how we will have to reduce the level of direct services we provide to the American people in parks and communities across the country.  There will be wide-ranging and long-term consequences.  And there will be -- and already have been -- negative impacts across our entire workforce.  While plans are still be finalized, we expect the following to happen:

All 25,000 National Park Service employees will face challenges in performing your job.  Because we are just as dedicated to the proper stewardship of taxpayer dollars as we are to the stewardship of their parks, we have been prudent about spending since the start of the fiscal year.  Since October 1, we have delayed filling many vacant permanent jobs and reduced travel and other expenses. Secretary Salazar has implemented a Department-wide hiring freeze as well as given direction to reduce overtime, travel, training, contracts, cooperative agreements, and grants and eliminate conference attendance.  I want to emphasize to you that keeping positions vacant is not a sustainable strategy; it cripples our ability to meet mission responsibilities -- from providing education programs to kids, to coordinating wildlife research, to managing museum collections -- and it increases the burden on remaining staff that take on additional critical work that cannot go undone.

Furloughs of Permanent Employees.  We are still finalizing our plans and assessing whether furloughs of NPS permanent employees will be required. Across the Department of the Interior, it is expected that thousands of permanent employees will be furloughed for up to 22 work days.  In the unfortunate event it comes to furloughs, all affected employees will be provided at least 30 days notice or in accordance with the designated representative collective bargaining agreement, as appropriate.  We continue to engage in discussions with employee unions to ensure that any furloughs are applied in an appropriate manner meeting agency mission requirements.  If you have questions on this issue, I encourage you to go to the Office of Personnel Management website, which has helpful information and answers to frequently asked questions regarding furloughs (found at www.opm.gov/furlough, under the "administrative furlough" section).

Seasonal employees will be furloughed, have delayed starts, shortened employment periods, or will not be hired at all.  We lose our utility infielders.  Our seasonal workforce is the "bench" we turn to when fires break out, search and rescue operations are underway, and every other collateral duty in the world needs doing. Many of these folks return year after year; they are the repositories of amazing institutional knowledge for the park...and our visitors. The sequestration will hit just as many parks are gearing up to hire seasonals.  In some parks, like Yellowstone, the impact has already started; those who would normally be getting ready to plow roads for the spring season are on hold and the opening of the park could be delayed up to a month.  All seasonal employees that are furloughed will be provided at least 30 days notice.

We will be unable to hire the number of students that we had planned -- halting the progress on youth hiring of the last four years.  Students are a vital part of our workforce today and integral to the National Park workforce of tomorrow.  Sequestration will mean that we will be unable to meet our youth hiring goals.  We also expect significant reductions to cooperative agreements with partners that fund youth work crews and are the foundation for our vision of a 21st Century Conservation Corps.  Our inability to hire students and enter into cooperative agreements will have lasting impacts as these young people are forced to find work elsewhere and ultimately may make different career choices.

Sequestration will have long-term and wide-ranging effects.

1. Economic. Reduced services and access will make families planning summer vacations think twice about coming to a national park.  A drop in visitation could have devastating effects on the economies of gateway communities who depend on visitor spending and shut down park lodging, food, and other services provided by concessioners who support 25,000 jobs. Just today we announced that visitor spending in 2011 pumped $30 billion into the national economy that supported 252,000 jobs.

2. Unfunded Community Projects.   Our commitment to states and communities will be jeopardized by $2.4 million in cuts to NPS grants to states to support local recreation, $1.9 million to support historic preservation, and $500,000 in technical assistance offered by RTCA.

3. Resources at Risk.  Our capacity to respond to new threats from invasive species will be cut in half and previous investments in eradication will be endangered; at Yosemite, more than $2.5 million spent in recent years to remove/control aggressive species as yellow star thistle, Italian thistle and Himalayan blackberry will be wasted if those plants reestablish their hold and increase their threat to native ecosystems.  Water quality testing will be reduced in as many as 55 parks.  At Redwood, the inability to fill the park's hydrologic technician position will lead to a degradation of the park's long-term hydrologic record. The park will be unable to collect water quality data that supports Clean Water Act Section 303(d) monitoring and directives from Congress contained in the 1978 Redwood Act.  Ford's Theatre will lack the curatorial capacity to manage its collection of over 14,000 artifacts relating to President Lincoln and the management, preservation, and documentation of these objects and documents would be jeopardized.

If sequestration happens, I want you to know that I will be doing everything possible to mitigate its effects on our mission and on you and your families.  Over the next several days it may be difficult to sort through what is fact and what is rumor.  Your entire National Park Service leadership team in Washington, in the regions, and in parks, is committed to making sure that you have accurate and timely information as we know it.

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About the Author

Zach Behrens is KCETLink's Editor-in-Chief of Blogs, where he oversees website editorial and advises on projects. When he does write, he mostly covers local government, environment, and the outdoors.
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