At 100 Years, National Parks Plagued by ‘Exacerbating Corruption’ and a $12 Billion Backlog

By Michael Bastasch Published on August 25, 2016

The National Park Service turned 100 years old Thursday, and the Obama administration has set about promoting the value of national parks to Americans and the history of why the U.S. government has set aside millions of acres.

In fact, President Barack Obama created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine Wednesday on the eve of the 100-year anniversary of the parks service. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the designation “serves as an inspiration to reflect on America’s iconic landscapes and historical and cultural treasures.”

“Through this incredibly generous private gift for conservation, these lands will remain accessible to current and future generations of Americans, ensuring the rich history of Mainers’ hunting, fishing and recreation heritage will forever be preserved,” she said.

But in celebrating 100 years of national parks, it’s also useful to point out where the Interior Department has gone wrong in regulating millions of acres of U.S. lands.

In light of this, The Daily Caller News Foundation has listed a few big management issues facing the government:

  1. ‘Exacerbating Corruption’

Interior Department inspector general investigations have found some agency employees were less than ethical while in office.

The IG recently reported the former head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bob Abbey, stood to profit from the sale of federal land to a client of his old consulting firm. The IG had evidence Abbey “stood to benefit personally from the sale” of the land, and he was “personally and substantially involved in the pre-sale process.”

The Department of Justice, however, declined to prosecute Abbey for trying to profit off his public office. Republican Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert said the IG’s report was “further evidence of exacerbating corruption within the Department of the Interior.”

The DOJ also declined to prosecute a U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service (FWS) employee who was secretly on the payroll of a prominent environmental lobbying group.

FWS employee Stephen Barton did not disclose taking $377,000 from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) from 2004 to 2014.

FWS awarded WAFWA about $3 million in taxpayer grants while Barton worked as a double-agent for environmentalists.

  1. $12 Billion In The Hole

Jewell may be celebrating the creation of a new national monument in Maine, but her cheer glosses over the fact that the National Parks Service is burdened by a whopping $12 billion maintenance backlog.

NPS’s deferred maintenance backlog has grown from nearly $10 billion to $12 billion under Obama as more lands are brought under federal control. Obama has used the Antiquities Act to bring more land under federal control than any other president.

“Limited resources are siphoned to new acquisitions while the Service’s $12 billion maintenance backlog is ignored,” Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop said in a statement on NPS’s anniversary.

“For a park to fulfill the measure of its creation, people have to see it,” he said. “This backlog and management failure limits visits and recreational access.”

Bishop, the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, introduced a bill to give more funding to NPS to deal with its growing maintenance backlog. It passed out of committee and is waiting to be voted on by the House.

  1. Wasting Millions Of Dollars

Interior has also been criticized for wasting million of taxpayer dollars on cell phones and projects that haven’t been finished.

The IG’s office reported in June that Interior wasted “tens of thousands of dollars on unused mobile devices,” like cell phones and tablets. “Assuming the bureaus continue with the current cellular plans for the next three years, spending on unused mobile devices would exceed $1.7 million,” the IG continued.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. In March, Gohmert revealed Interior had spent $50 million in more than a decade on a law enforcement database that hadn’t been finished.

“This is government incompetence rivaled only by the roll-out of the Obamacare website,” Gohmert said in a March hearing.

“This is government waste, fraud and abuse to the extreme,” Gohmert said.

  1. Resource Management

Obama’s Interior Department is known for gobbling up U.S. lands, but it’s not known for using them productively.

When Obama took office in 2009, U.S. federal lands produced 18.8 quadrillion British thermal units (btus) worth of energy. By 2014, federal lands only produced 15.9 quadrillion btus of energy, according to federal data.

Fossil fuel production on federal lands is predicted to continue to stagnate for at least the next couple of years because of the administration’s moratorium on new coal leases. Interior won’t accept any new coal mineral leases until it figures out how much more companies should pay to mine government minerals.

Environmentalists were excited by the news, but the coal industry and the communities across the country that support it, unsurprisingly, saw the moratorium as the next step in the so-called “war on coal.”

  1. Park Rangers With Machine Guns, Flashbangs

The Interior IG also caught National Park rangers buying machine guns and flashbang grenades. Reports of heavy weapons also comes as complaints of rangers increasingly using force against park visitors.

“In FY 2015, we issued a management advisory to the NPS Director when we found that law enforcement rangers had purchased automatic weapons and ‘flashbang’ distraction devices, in violation of NPS policy,” the IG reported, “indicating that NPS continues to struggle with weapons accountability issues.”

The IG also reported law enforcement officials are increasingly at odds with national park visitors, and “has experienced a recent increase in complaints concerning law enforcement personnel, many of them involving use of force incidents.”

Investigators reported again in 2016 that “a supervisory park ranger arranged for the purchase of Colt M-4 fully automatic rifles” between 2008 and 2010.”

“Park rangers bought nine of these rifles and allowed them to be carried around on duty for three years before being converted to only fire semi-automatic,” the IG reported.

The IG also found that “the supervisory park ranger admitted to purchasing and distributing the automatic weapons despite knowing that they violated NPS policy,” and “admitted telling rangers who received the automatic rifles not to display them to others.”

The park official also “admitted to, at a minimum, not making it clear to his supervisors that the automatic weapons needed to be converted to semiautomatics.”

“The supervisory park ranger told us that in the interest of ‘officer safety’ he allowed full-time park rangers at MNP to carry the fully automatic rifles with them in their patrol vehicles,” the IG reported.

 

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