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S. 1253 - National Park Centennial Challenge




STATEMENT OF MARY A. BOMAR, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 1253, TO ESTABLISH A FUND FOR THE NATIONAL PARK CENTENNIAL CHALLENGE

August 2, 2007

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 1253, a bill to establish a fund for the National Park Centennial Challenge, and for other purposes.  

The Department strongly supports enactment of S. 1253.  As the committee is aware, this bill—an Administration legislative proposal—is one of Secretary Kempthorne's top priorities.  We are grateful to you, Mr. Chairman, and to Senator Bingaman for sponsoring this legislation, and we look forward to continuing to work with you as S. 1253 moves through the legislative process.  Secretary Kempthorne and I are very excited about partnering with the American people on innovative projects and programs that will capture the imagination of the public and that will welcome and inspire the generations who will inherit the great national treasures under our stewardship. 

S. 1253, along with other components of the Centennial Initiative, offers the greatest prospects for fulfilling what I believe are the three most important goals for the National Park Service:

  • Re-engaging the support of the American people for the National Parks and rejuvenating their pride in "the best idea America ever had," in the famous words of a British diplomat;
  • Increasing the capacity of the National Park System, through increased funding, to meet the needs of a changing population; and
  • Recruiting, retaining, training, and preparing a new generation of leadership for the National Park Service.     

The Centennial Initiative would not only provide vital funding for the national parks, but also provide more avenues for Americans to become involved in their national parks and the legacy they represent.  National parks are special places that unite us all as Americans, and it is our shared responsibility to preserve them for generations yet to come.  The Centennial Initiative is a true reflection of that sentiment.

In preparing for the National Park Service's second century of stewardship, it is worth noting the growth and change that has occurred since the National Park Service was first established.  In 1916, the Department of the Interior oversaw 14 national parks, 21 national monuments, and two land reservations—all of which had been set aside for conservation purposes during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  However, these areas were not managed in a systematic way, nor was their preservation assured, until Congress passed the National Park Service Organic Act, which not only established a new agency responsible for these units, but also directed the National Park Service to "conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

While the fundamental mission of the National Park Service has remained the same for 90 years, our responsibilities have grown in size and breadth.  Several new parks and monuments were added in the 1920's, including parks in the East, and in 1933, a major governmental reorganization transferred responsibility for 44 historical areas to the National Park Service.  Two Executive Orders in 1933 clarified that the National Park Service has a responsibility to care for historical as well as natural areas, making the National Park System truly national in scope.  Two years later, Congress confirmed the National Park Service's role as the leading Federal agency in this field with passage of the 1935 Historic Sites Act that led to the National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmark designations.

The 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's saw the expansion of the National Park System to include national recreation areas, including those in large urban areas.  Fifty-two historical areas were added between 1952 and 1972.  During the 1950's, the National Park Service launched "Mission 66," a ten-year effort to upgrade park facilities as the National Park Service approached its 50th anniversary in 1966.  In 1980, the establishment of large expanses of land in Alaska as national park areas doubled the acreage under the management of the National Park Service.  Along with continued growth, the conservation mission of the National Park Service was reaffirmed and strengthened in the 1970 General Authorities Act, which formally recognized all the lands administered by the National Park Service, regardless of their title, as part of one National Park System.   

During the 1980's and 1990's, Congress added more units, mostly historic sites, including many that reflect the diversity of our nation, such as Manzanar National Historic Site, where Japanese Americans were held during World War II and Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, commemorating the Supreme Court decision on school segregation.  Many sites across the country expanded interpretive services to appeal to diverse demographic groups and some began providing bilingual exhibits and information.  Parks were made more accessible to the disabled.  National Park Service programs that assist or advise communities, such as Rivers and Trails and National Heritage Areas, added more responsibilities. 

Today, the responsibilities of the National Park Service include administering 391 park units along with multiple programs across a broad spectrum that help conserve our nation's natural, cultural, and historical resources.  The Service has more than 22,000 employees and an FY 2007 budget of $2.3 billion.  Since 2000, our emphasis has been on taking better care of the resources under our stewardship, which has included a major effort to reduce the backlog of deferred maintenance in our parks as well as to complete documentation and enhance management of natural resources under the umbrella of the Natural Resource Challenge.  We have stressed developing partnerships to facilitate conservation, that includes the initiation of the Preserve America program.  The boldest and most comprehensive initiative of this era, however, is the one that is the subject of today's hearing.

The legislative proposal before you was developed following the Presidential directive that was announced on August 25, 2006, the 90th anniversary of the National Park Service.  President Bush issued a memorandum directing Secretary Kempthorne to "enhance our national parks during the decade leading up to the 2016 centennial celebration…[and] prepare them for another century of conservation, preservation and enjoyment."   From that bold directive, the Department developed the multi-year Centennial Initiative, which was presented in February as part of the President's FY 2008 Budget.     

The 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 S. 1253.  

We greatly appreciate the support Congress has already shown for the Centennial Commitment portion of the Initiative.  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.  Including the centennial funding, total operations funding for FY 2008 would increase by $199 million under the House-passed version over the FY 2007 level, and by $196 million under the Senate committee-reported version.  Enactment of operations funding in that range would mean that all parks would receive enough funding to cover fixed costs in FY 2008, and many would also receive more seasonal rangers, more maintenance funding, and more resource protection funding, all of which would better enable parks to provide visitors with safe, enjoyable, and educational experiences.

The President asked for a report on implementation of his August 24, 2006 directive by May 31, 2007.  To begin the process of determining signature programs and projects, Secretary Kempthorne led the Department and the National Park Service in an unprecedented effort to reach out to the American public to listen to their ideas for future goals for the national parks as we move toward the 100th anniversary.  During March and April, after planning 12 listening sessions, we expanded to more than 40 sessions throughout the nation after the initial sessions generated such excitement among the American people as well as National Park Service staff.  Some of them were led by the Secretary and me personally.  We also took comments through our website and by mail; in total, we heard from more than 4,500 people.  From these sessions, and from further discussion among park managers and staff, five overarching goals emerged.  They are articulated in the Secretary's May 31 report, The Future of America's National Parks, as follows:

  • Stewardship: The National Park Service will lead America and the world in preserving and restoring treasured resources;
  • Environmental Leadership: The National Park Service will demonstrate environmental leadership to the nation;
  • Recreational Experience: National parks will be superior recreational destinations where visitors have fun, explore nature and history, find inspiration, and improve health and wellness;
  • Education: The National Park Service will foster exceptional learning opportunities that connect people to parks; and
  • Professional Excellence: The National Park Service will demonstrate management excellence worthy of the treasures entrusted to our care.   

The report established these goals not only as the foundation for decisions about specific projects and programs, but also to guide the work of the National Park Service as we work toward our centennial in 2016.  The report also identified specific performance goals within each overarching goal, and gave examples of actions that would fulfill those goals.

Our efforts at the present time are focused on two fronts: first, each park superintendent and program manager has been asked to complete an implementation strategy this summer that describes their vision and desired accomplishments for their individual areas to support the five overarching goals.  Second, parks and their enthusiastic partners are working together to propose centennial projects and programs for 2008 and 2009.  The projects and programs proposed for 2008 are being evaluated in terms of the criteria that were finalized in June.  At the Secretary's request, the Inspector General is engaged in conducting critical point evaluations of how we intend to implement the Centennial Challenge.  In particular, he has highlighted the issues of transparency in the project and program selection process and financial accountability.

Secretary Kempthorne and I plan to report on the individual park and program centennial implementation strategies, and announce centennial projects and programs approved for funding consideration for 2008 at the end of August.

The criteria adopted in June require that all proposed projects and programs:

  • provide for authorized activities in existing units;
  • contribute toward at least one of the five centennial goals;
  • be consistent with our management policies and planning and compliance documents;
  • require little or no additional National Park Service operating funds to be sustainable; and
  • have partners willing to contribute at least 50 percent of the project cost in cash from non-Federal sources. 

Beyond those basic requirements, projects and programs are being evaluated by National Park Service interdisciplinary review teams. Projects approved for 2008 will be analyzed to ensure that the programs and projects represent a mix of different emphasis areas—the five centennial goals, different-sized parks, different-sized projects, multiple park projects, national initiatives, and a mix of projects and programs.  We have been very clear in our quest for a diversity of centennial undertakings; this is by no means strictly about "bricks and mortar" construction projects.  There will be opportunities to consider more bold and innovative projects and programs in future years, as parks and their partners rise to the challenge.  Over time, the list will be updated to add new projects and programs and remove completed ones.  We look forward to working with you to identify such projects and programs.

S. 1253 would assure the funding that is needed to pay for projects and programs, once they have been selected.  This legislation would establish a U.S. Treasury fund known as the National Park Centennial Challenge Fund.  It would encourage private donations for signature projects and programs in national parks by matching those donations with Federal funds of up to $100 million from FY 2008 through FY 2017.  The Fund would be available to the Secretary without further appropriation and with no fiscal year limitations.  The increase in mandatory spending could be offset by other mandatory savings proposals within the President's Budget, although the Administration's proposal did not include specific offsets.

Soliciting for Challenge Fund donations would be done primarily through the National Park Foundation and local friends' groups.  The legislation specifies that National Park Service employees would be subject to current rules about soliciting and receiving donations.

The Centennial Challenge Fund would build on a long tradition of philanthropy in our national parks—from donations of land by the Rockefeller family to the coins given by school children to help restore the Statue of Liberty. The challenge component was first developed in collaboration with philanthropic, non-profit and private groups.  In the outreach we conducted this past spring, we found broad public support for the idea of financing projects through a public-private match, and we found the "challenge" approach to fundraising to be a familiar concept.  The possibility of matching funds has excited our partners and enticed new donors, and we have every indication that we will readily raise more than $100 million a year necessary for a $100 million annual Federal match.

As Secretary Kempthorne said in his report to the President, "the golden years for the national parks have not passed, but are ahead."   Mr. Chairman, we again thank you for your leadership on this legislation.  We stand ready to work with you to ensure that this legislation is approved by Congress in a timely way, to help ensure that our national parks–our national treasures–are in top condition when we begin our second century of stewardship in 2016.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my statement.  I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have.