Reduced Hours, Possible Closures at National Parks, Says Salazar About Sequester

Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley, CA. | Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Thousands of furloughed employees, threats to the federal firefighting workforce, and possible closures at parks. All that and more was detailed in a memo obtained by SoCal Wanderer and sent to 76,000 federal employees under Secretary Ken Salazar this weekend (read it in full below).

At issue is sequestration, unpopular across-the-board cuts that were postponed during last-minute fiscal cliff negotiations earlier this year. If congress does not act this week, they will go into effect Friday.

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"I want to be clear that there are no good choices," Salazar wrote in the memo. "All of the choices we make have negative long-term consequences on our ability to perform our mission."

Salazar leads the Department of the Interior, which has a mission of protecting "America's natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities, and supplies the energy to power our future." Among its numerous agencies, it includes two associated with outdoor recreation: the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service.

Specifics have not been announced (some is known for California parks), but Salazar's memo alluded to disappointment to come for travelers: "Middle-class Americans who expected to spend their summer vacations at our 398 national parks, 561 refuges, and over 258 public land units will encounter reduced hours and services or even closures."

The full memo can be read below:


To: All DOI Employees

From: Secretary /s/

Subject: Update on Preparations for Potential Sequestration

I write this memorandum with a heavy heart as we prepare to implement sequestration reductions on March 1, 2013. I maintain hope that Congress will act and reach agreement on a balanced deficit reduction plan that avoids these senseless cuts. However, with the deadline only days away, we are finalizing our plans and have started taking immediate actions to prepare for the devastating impacts.

The President has stated that the sequester is bad policy and I agree. The sequester is an across-the-board reduction that slashes activities without discretion and will reduce the level of direct services we provide to the American public across the country. It will have a wide range of long-term destructive consequences for our mission and programs --
negatively impacting our entire workforce. I promised you that we would share what we knew as soon as information was available. Although we are still finalizing our implementation plans, we expect the following:

All of our 76,000 employees will face challenges in performing their mission. We are facing incredibly difficult choices in how to implement the sequester. I want to be clear that there are no good choices - all of the choices we make have negative long-term consequences on our ability to perform our mission. All of the tools that we are using to mitigate impacts of this indiscriminate reduction will nonetheless have impacts on your ability to perform your mission and serve the American public. We are implementing hiring freezes, reducing overtime, reducing travel, eliminating conferences, reducing training, reducing contracts, reducing cooperative agreements, and reducing grants -- each of these has a negative
impact on mission delivery.

Thousands of permanent employees will be furloughed. While we are still finalizing our implementation plans, we expect that thousands of permanent employees will be furloughed for periods of time up to 22 work days. The specific numbers of employees and the duration will vary from bureau to bureau and program to program. You can expect to hear more next week from your bureau and office leadership about potential impacts within your organization. Let me assure you that all affected employees will be provided at least 30 days notice prior to executing a furlough or in accordance with the designated representative collective bargaining agreement as appropriate. We will also continue to engage in discussions with employee unions as appropriate, to ensure that any furloughs are applied in an appropriate manner meeting agency mission requirements. If you have questions on this issue, I would 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).

Many seasonal employees will be furloughed, have delayed starts, shortened employment periods, or will not be hired at all. Our seasonal workforce is an essential part of our workforce. Many of our seasonal employees come back year after year to perform our mission. They fight fires, provide visitor services to millions of Americans, and perform vital field and scientific work. Many of our seasonal employees will be furloughed, have delayed starts, or face shortened employment periods. In some cases, we will not have the financial resources to hire seasonal employees at all. All seasonal employees that are furloughed will be provided at least 30 days notice prior to execution of the furlough.

We will be unable to hire the number of students that we had planned -- halting the progress on youth hiring of the last 4 years. Our students are a vital part of our workforce today and integral to the Interior workforce of tomorrow. We will be unable to meet our youth hiring goals. We also expect significant reductions to our cooperative agreements with our 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 make different long-term employment choices.

I want to be clear that the sequester's impacts will be felt long beyond the next 7 months. Indeed it threatens the long-term viability and execution of our mission. The sequester will compromise our ability to implement the President's all-of-the-above energy strategy due to
reductions in oil, gas, and coal development programs. Middle-class Americans who expected to spend their summer vacations at our 398 national parks, 561 refuges, and over 258 public land units will encounter reduced hours and services or even closures. Local communities and businesses that rely on these great outdoor places to support their livelihoods will face a loss of income from reduced visitation to national parks, refuges, and
public lands. Basic community services supported by the grants and payments we make to states and counties throughout the country will be cut. We also anticipate reductions in the level of support services to Tribes, which again translates into reductions in basic services to millions of tribal members. Given our large footprint on the American landscape and
the diverse constituency our programs support, we expect that impacts to the public will be felt in hundreds of communities around the Nation.

Over the last 4 years we have made great progress by working together to deliver on a bold agenda that is generating significant results and includes reforms of the oil and gas programs, creation of a renewable energy frontier, renewed commitments to conservation through America's Great Outdoors, a focus on job creation through greater support of the
conservation economy, stronger relationships with Native Americans, and high employment levels of youth. The sequester will roll back many of these advances and reduce the capacity we so diligently constructed.

It is my earnest hope that this senseless but avoidable crisis will be averted. Please know that I am working around-the-clock, tirelessly advocating on your behalf and on the behalf of the millions of Americans who rely upon our services. Thank you for your service and perseverance in this most difficult time.


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About the Author

Zach Behrens is KCET's Director of News, Region and State, working on digital and on-air news products that relate to Southern California and beyond.
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