The Coalition Column

Building on a Hundred Years of Solidity: The NPS Plans for the Future

Lee White, October 2007

In 2016, it is conceivable that the president we elect in 2008 will be completing his or her second term in office. While that may seem a long way in the future, the National Park Service is already hard at work in preparation for its centennial in 2016. The Park Service has created a web site (www.nps.gov/2016) detailing the extensive planning that is already underway.

The Bush administration's Centennial Initiative proposes $3 billion in new funds for the National Park Service over the next 10 years. Of that amount, $1 billion is the "Centennial Commitment"—$100 million in additional annual appropriations for each of the next 10 years. The other $2 billion would come from the "Centennial Challenge"—the challenge to individuals, foundations, and businesses to contribute at least $100 million annually to support signature programs and projects. Each year, $100 million in donations would be matched by $100 million of federal funding from the National Park Centennial Challenge Fund.

In May, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne issued an extensive report entitled "The Future of America's National Parks," providing an overview of the current status of the Park Service and its objectives for the coming years. In one of the first steps to implement the centennial celebration, Secretary Kempthorne recently announced that the Park Service has certified 201 proposals as eligible for consideration for Centennial Challenge federal matching funds in fiscal 2008. The proposals represent 116 parks and their private sector partners in 40 states and the District of Columbia.
The NPS only certified proposals that included a partner committed to providing at least a 50 percent cash match. The more than 200 proposals that met the Park Service's selection criteria represent a total investment of $369.9 million—$215.9 million from partners, and $154 million federal matching funds.

Both the House-passed and the Senate committee-approved versions of the fiscal 2008 interior appropriations bill contain the $100 million in additional operations funding identified in the president's budget for the Centennial Initiative. Hearings were recently held in the House (H.R. 2959) and Senate (S. 1253) on the administration's proposed legislation to establish the Centennial Fund. Initiation of any of the eligible proposals depends on congressional action on the Centennial Initiative.

On August 2, 2007, National Park Service Director Mary Bomar testified before both the House and Senate on the administration's legislative package. In the morning, Bomar testified before the House Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Subcommittee chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and House Resources Committee chair Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.) have introduced legislation (H.R. 3094) that relies totally on federal funding (unlike the administration's bill, which relies on a mix of federal and private funding.)

H.R. 3094 would provide $100 million annually over 10 years in additional funding for a Centennial Fund, but it would not be contingent on whether non-federal funding has been received. The legislation would also provide for more congressional input through the annual appropriations process into determining which projects would be funded. Under the administration's proposal, the NPS director would have greater flexibility in determining which "signature projects and programs" would receive funding.

Director Bomar expressed the administration's "serious concerns about the funding mechanisms" contained in H.R. 3094. A major point of contention was how each bill would pay for the initiative. Chairman Grijalva stated that his bill was fully funded through new or higher fees on commercial activities on federal lands administered by the Department of the Interior. He criticized the administration's proposal, stating that it did not have the offsets required by congressional "pay-go" rules. Bomar stated that the administration would create offsets in an attempt to allay the chairman's concerns.

Since no competing legislation is pending in the Senate, Director Bomar's appearance before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee on National Parks was less contentious. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), subcommittee chair, stated that while he had concerns with some specifics in the bill, he supported the overall goal of increased funding for the National Park Service. Akaka also expressed concern about the lack of budget offsets offered by the administration to justify new funding. As with the House hearing, Bomar stated that she now had a list of possible offsets that the administration would be willing to consider.

Despite the progress that has already been made by the Park Service, Congress will have a great deal to say in how the Park Service Centennial program evolves over the next year.

—Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History.