Unless Congress acts by March 1, the dreaded government spending "sequestration" will strip over 5% from the overall National Parks Service (NPS) budget, a cut retired Parks Service employees warn may turn many of the nation's most-visited parks into "ghost towns."
In a memo obtained by the Coalition of National Parks Service Retirees (CNPSR), NPS director Jonathan Jarvis instructed national park officials to get ready for getting by with a lot less money.
"We expect that a cut of this magnitude, intensified by the lateness of the implementation, will result in reductions to visitor services, hours of operation, shortening of seasons and possibly the closing of areas during periods when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, resources, and government assets," he wrote.
According to a budget planning spreadsheet accompanying his memo, NPS director Jarvis details how the expected service-wide 5% sequestration-driven budget cut will impact the various national parks.
Hardest hit by sequestration, Yellowstone National Park would be forced to deal with a cut of $1.75 million from its current $35 million FY 2013 operating budget.
According to a recent report from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), sequestration would force the Park Service to cut a total of $183 million from its annual budget, including $13 million from its construction budget, $5 million from its National Recreation and Preservation program, $8 million from Land Acquisition and State Assistance program, $5 million from its Historic Preservation program, and $4 million from other programs.
To get ready for the looming budget cut, Jarvis directed the parks to stop hiring new permanent employees, stop authorizing payment of overtime, suspend purchases of new equipment and extend current employee furloughs to "the maximum extent allowed..."
"This is very troubling and it has the potential to turn already budget-strapped national parks into ghost towns," said CNPSR chair Maureen Finnerty in a press release. "This would be devastating for America's national parks, for the nearly 300 million Americans who visit them, and for the irreplaceable natural and cultural resources the parks were established to protect."
Park visitors won't be the only ones to suffer, noted Finnerty. "Additionally there will be steep impacts to the private sector - the hundreds of concession businesses operating inside of the parks, the stores operated by cooperating associations in park visitor centers, not to mention the economies of the communities adjacent to parks and entire states that depend so heavily on both tourism and other spending done by the parks."
Projected budget cuts ranged from $1,000 to the $1.75 for Yellowstone. Other notable cuts included; $1 million from Grand Canyon National Park, $1.25 million from Gateway National Recreation Area, $1.6 million from the National Mall and Memorial Parks and $1.4 million from Yosemite National Park.
Sequestration, currently set to take effect on March 1, was triggered by the failure of President Obama's congressional Super Committee to agree on how to cut government spending by $1.2 trillion. Unless Congress modifies it to the satisfaction of the White House, sequestration will result in cuts totaling over $1.2 trillion from new defense and non-defense spending over the next 10 years.
Many government programs will be exempt from sequestration cuts, most notably; Social Security benefits, tier I railroad retirement benefits, Veterans benefits, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program.
And as if sequestration isn't enough for Congress to deal with, all federal funding for the current fiscal year is set to expire on March 27, forcing a government shutdown. Yes, Congress spends a lot of time dealing with the fact that it hasn't enacted an actual annual federal budget since 1997.
Also See: A Decade of Wasteful Spending