Public Lands, Private Bands

| September 10, 2003

Is Yellowstone National Park poised to become the next Disneyland? Will automatic weapon-wielding security guards patrol public lands as private law enforcement groups? President Bush proposed outsourcing (privatizing) hundreds of thousands of federal jobs just after the November 2002 elections. Bobby Harnage Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), called this move a 'weapon of mass destruction aimed at federal employees.' The announcement has received other unsavory commentary: After a government memo was released stating that the National Park Service might cut jobs and services to meet Bush's outsourcing quotas, two former Interior Department secretaries, Bruce Babbitt and Stewart Udall, said privatization could turn crown jewels like Yosemite into spectacles like Niagara Falls or Disneyland.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), recently reported that the US Forest Service was 'initiating studies for contracting out its entire law enforcement, budgetary and human resources staff, as well as significant portions of its environmental, fire control and timber sale workforce in order to meet Bush administration outsourcing quotas.' Furthermore, internal documents obtained by the environmental group showed that the Forest Service will 'commission studies possibly leading to the replacement of its entire law enforcement program (650 positions), natural resource monitoring and data collection (300 positions), and a significant number of positions (150) from its national fire center in Boise, Idaho,' for Fiscal Year 2004; 'prepare outsourcing competitions for its entire financial management (2,000 positions) and human resources (900 positions) staff' in FY 2005; and 'will consider replacing between 5,000 and 10,000 fire fighters with private contractors' in FY 2006.

With the plan to fulfill a quota of privatized federal jobs, the timber companies could well bid for the jobs that are supposed to be overseeing their very own conduct, said PEER executive director Jeff Ruch. 'These schemes appear designed to produce a Georgia-Pacific National Forest patrolled by private rent-a-rangers.'
-- Joel Stonington

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