Park ranger: Supervisors pushed sequester cuts that visitors would see
By Judson Berger
Published March 08, 2013
Another federal employee has come forward to claim the Obama administration resisted efforts to ease the impact of sequester.
A U.S. park ranger, who did not wish to be identified, told FoxNews.com that supervisors within the National Park Service overruled plans to deal with the budget cuts in a way that would have had minimal impact on the public. Instead, the source said, park staff were told to cancel special events and cut "interpretation services" -- the talks, tours and other education services provided by local park rangers.
"Apparently, they want the public to feel the pain," the ranger said.
The National Park Service is among many federal agencies warning of a major impact from the sequester cuts, which took effect last Friday. The agency has warned of delayed access to portions of Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks, closed campgrounds at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, reduced hours at the Grand Canyon visitor center and other ramifications.
The Obama administration says these cuts must be made in order to make the $85 billion in cuts from Congress' failure to avert the sequester. At the NPS, the agency was dealing with an across-the-board 5 percent cut.
Republicans have claimed the administration is making some cuts in order to exaggerate the impact. Lawmakers this past week revealed a leaked email from the Agriculture Department in which a field officer appeared to tell his team that he was instructed not to contradict the bosses' warnings about the cuts.
At the Park Service, the alleged incident occurred in one region and it's unclear whether other divisions were given similar guidance.
But a Park Service spokesman told FoxNews.com he's "never heard of guidance given like that."
The spokesman said that like other agencies, the Park Service was absorbing a 5 percent cut in just seven months. It was also being forced to cut seasonal employees, which make up a big part of the department's labor costs. Doing this, he explained, would impact "interpretive programs and public events."
But he denied the claim there was any directive to make those cuts more visible to the public.
"There's not a ton of flexibility," he said, noting that most cuts will end up impacting visitors at some level. "Everything in parks is geared toward either the preservation of the resources or the needs of the visitors."
Joan Anzelmo, a former park superintendent in Colorado, also said that while it's possible one specific location was giving guidance to make sure the public sees the cuts, she doesn't think that was happening across the country. She also said any cuts to services and staffing would be made in large part because the parks budgets do not have much "wiggle room."
"I would be hard pressed to be able to make those cuts as a superintendent and not have an impact to the public," said Anzelmo, now a spokeswoman for The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.
Nonetheless, memos have surfaced from National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis appearing to show the agency put a priority on telling the public how the cuts would affect them.
One Jan. 25 memo, which was obtained and published by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, showed Jarvis directing regional directors to carefully explain the "specific and tangible results" of the cuts as they submitted their cost-saving plans.
Jarvis wrote that agency officials expected the cuts to result in reduced visitor services, shortened seasons and other visible changes. "Parks must be specific in their description and include the number of visitors affected and an indication of the effect on nearby communities and businesses," he wrote. "All other organizations should describe impacts in terms of diminished performance and reduced administrative services and oversight."
Another memo, dated Feb. 26, railed against the "senseless, across-the-board budget cuts." Jarvis, in that memo, described "long-term and wide-ranging effects," while pledging to try to "mitigate" the impact.
The ranger who spoke to FoxNews.com, though, stressed that it was still just a 5 percent cut.
"It's obvious that they want the public to feel the pain in order to push this agenda that Washington wants," the ranger said. "A lot of these parks can absorb these cuts without the public's visit being affected."