Put on a Happy Face

National Park Service employees muzzled on budget shortfalls and other problems

| May 20, 2004

Describing the natural wonders of Yellowstone or giving out directions to visitors in the Grand Canyon are more difficult for National Park Service employees now that the Bush administration has effectively muzzled them. Among other things, budget cuts and poor air quality have plagued our National Parks ever since the Bush administration began diverting funds away from maintaining our natural treasures and toward national security and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But talking about these issues is a big no-no, says Washington. When dealing with the press and the public, 'Superintendents are now required to refer to budget cuts as 'service-level adjustments,' and they're advised to avoid the topic when possible,' writes Amanda Griscom in Grist Magazine.

Instead of a complete gag order, the Bush administration is actually putting words in the mouths of its regional Park administrators. 'The superintendents have gotten orders from Washington to follow a set of sunny, feel-good 'talking points' during any interaction with the media, according to internal NPS emails obtained by [Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)] and made public [on May 12],' Griscom continues. Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, puts it bluntly when describing the National Park Service under Bush: 'It's the reverse of the Midas touch -- instead of turning to gold, everything they touch turns to shit.'

The consequences for disobedient NPS employees are clear. Teresa Chambers, chief of the U.S. Park Police was put on administrative leave last December and forbidden from speaking to the press at the risk of losing her job, outright, after she removed her muzzle and told The Washington Post that, as Griscom puts it, 'the diversion of staff to homeland-security duties had led to gaps in other areas of service, creating, by extension, possible public-safety problems in parks and on parkways.' Read more about Chambers' trials at http://www.honestchief.com/
-- Jacob Wheeler

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