“These agreements . . . should not be held up as a model of how the Federal government should do business.”

Yesterday, the Senate National Parks Subcommittee hearing included discussion of the October 2013 federal government shutdown and its effect on parks, monuments, and certain other public lands.  S. 1750, the “Public Access to Public Land Guarantee Act,” was addressed during this hearing.

Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Flake (AZ), and co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (UT), Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT), and Sen. John McCain (AZ), S. 1750 would “authorize the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture to enter into agreements with States and political subdivisions of States providing for the continued operation, in whole or in part, of public land, units of the National Park System, units of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and units of the National Forest System in the State during any period in which the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture is unable to maintain normal level of operations at the units due to a lapse in appropriations, and for other purposes.”

Christina Goldfuss, Deputy Director, Congressional and External Relations, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, provided the Senate Subcommittee members with this key observation:

“Enacting a law to try to avoid the impact of a future shutdown on specified activities is not a responsible alternative to simply making the political commitment to avoid a shutdown in the future….”

Additional comments from Christina Goldfuss regarding S. 1750 follow:

“The Department [of the Interior] strongly opposes S. 1750. We have a great deal of sympathy for the businesses and communities that experienced a disruption of activity and loss of revenue during last fall’s government shutdown and that stand to lose more if there is another funding lapse in the future. However, we disagree generally with the idea of enacting laws to try to lessen the impact of a future government shutdown for a few select governmental activities rather than protecting all such activities by avoiding a lapse in appropriations. We also believe that this legislation specifically, with its mandate to enter into agreements to reopen public lands at the request of a state, would be very difficult to execute. Furthermore, we are concerned that agreements to have states provide funding for activities that are inherently Federal in nature, even for a short period of time, would undermine the longstanding framework established by Congress for the management of Federal lands under the stewardship of the Department.”

“The desire to avoid the kind of disappointment to the public and disruption of economic activity that results from a lapse in Federal appropriations is understandable. When the partial government shutdown occurred from October 1 through October 16, 2013, a lot of attention was focused on effects of closures of national parks, national wildlife refuges, public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and national forests – all places that are highly valued by the public for their recreational offerings and that serve as economic engines for the communities in which they are located.”

“These agreements did help a select number of businesses and communities. However, they should not be held up as a model of how the Federal government should do business. The national parks that were opened during the shutdown were fortunate to be located in states that had the resources and political will to fund them. The National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which all seek to treat the land units under their stewardship equitably, have grave concerns about enshrining in law a process that favors units located in states willing to donate funds to operate them over those located in other states.”

“The 2013 Federal government shutdown had terrible impacts for American citizens, businesses, communities, states, and the economy as a whole. These impacts are summarized in the report released by the Office of Management and Budget entitled ‘Impacts and Costs of the October 2013 Federal Government Shutdown’ (November 2013). The report makes clear that the economic effects and disruption to lives and activities from the shutdown were felt far and wide. Enacting a law to try to avoid the impact of a future shutdown on specified activities is not a responsible alternative to simply making the political commitment to avoid a shutdown in the future by providing appropriations for all the vital functions the Federal government performs.”

The link to this Senate National Parks Subcommittee hearing is here.

Full text of the comments of Christina Goldfuss is available here.

See Thomas for more regarding S. 1750.

 

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