House & Senate Panels Consider Park Service Centennial Bills

On August 2, 2007, National Park Service Director Mary Bomar experienced the political equivalent of a day-night doubleheader by testifying before both the House and Senate on the administration’s legislative package (H.R. 2959, S. 1253) to fund the proposed 2016 National Park Service Centennial initiative.

In the morning, Ms. Bomar testified before the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Subcommittee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and House Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) 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.

The administration’s Centennial Initiative proposes $3 billion in new funds for the National Park Service over the next ten years. Of that amount, $1 billion is the “Centennial Commitment”—$100 million in additional annual appropriations for each of the next ten 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, the mandatory spending fund that would be established under H.R. 2959.

By contrast, H.R. 3094 would provide $100 million annually over ten 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. Ms. Bomar stated that the Administration would create offsets in an attempt to compromise with the chairman’s concerns.

Since is no competing legislation pending in the Senate, Director Bomar’s appearance before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks was less contentious. Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI) stated while he had concerns with some specifics in the bill (S. 1253), he supported the overall goal of increased funding for the National Park Service. Chairman Akaka also expressed concerns about the lack of budget offsets offered by the administration to justify new funding. As with the House hearing, Ms. Bomar stated that she now had a list of possible offsets that the administration would be willing to consider.

Both the House-passed and the Senate committee-approved versions of the FY 2008 Interior appropriations bill contain the $100 million in additional operations funding identified in the President’s Budget as Centennial Initiative funding.