Interior Deputy Secretary Reviews Policy Plans

Washington, D.C. — Deputy Secretary of the Interior Steve Griles discussed Interior Department policy plans for 2003 during a recent appearance at the American Recreation Coalition’s (ARC) Recreation Exchange. His comments covered the Bush Administration’s move to privatize some governmental functions, recreation-related concessions and permits, endangered species, and the management of resources, including fee receipts.

Mr. Griles’ remarks about privatization were prompted by a Washington Post story stating that as many as 70% of the full-time jobs in the National Park Service could be replaced by private-sector positions. He flatly denied the report although he did emphasize that some functions currently being performed by federal employees – mowing the grass, for example – could be done “better, quicker and cheaper” by the private sector. The aim is to be more competitive and to provide better service, he said, but acknowledged that there were bound to be some uncertainties involved in the process.

On the subject of concessions and permits, Mr. Griles reported that Senator Craig Thomas (R - WY), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks, Historic Preservation and Recreation, had asked him to personally address\ the issue of Leasehold Surrender Interest as it affects concessioners. Mr. Griles told the group that because he understood the business perspective on investment and depreciation, he also understood the need to address concessioners’ concerns about properly valuing their investments in facilities and services on federal lands. The Deputy Secretary also discussed the Bureau of Land Management’s new permit rules for guides and outfitters. He expressed concern that, under the new rules, permits would not be allowed for more than five years, which would limit opportunities for permittees to make capital investments. He explained that he had allowed the rules to be published, despite those concerns, rather than stop the revision process in its tracks. He then promised that revisions to the rules allowing for 10-year permits would be proposed shortly.

Asked about the Endangered Species Act, Mr. Griles acknowledged that it was a difficult statute to implement. He said that there were “no easy answers” to the problems raised by the listing of endangered species, citing limitations on boating related to protection of the manatees as one example. He explained that it would be necessary to work with the Congress to address such issues.

Mr. Griles described the effort that was under way within the Department to improve resource management, mentioning the attention being given to the maintenance backlog in the national parks as an example. He stressed the need for the Department to make the best use of limited dollars and reported that implementation of a new Memorandum of Understanding between the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration would “change how we look at roads.” Turning to another Interior agency, the Bureau of Reclamation, he said that it would be playing a different role in the future, due to the ongoing drought. Three billion dollars are being spent on drought relief programs during the current fiscal year, he noted, adding that next year will be worse, with perhaps as much as $6 billion being spent. As a result, he said, the Administration must ask the question, “How do we manage water better so that all can benefit?” He also noted that the recreation fee demonstration program needed to be improved, particularly in terms of tracking how fee receipts are collected and spent.

Finally, in response to a question about the proposed decrease in funding for the stateside Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), Mr. Griles stated that the attacks of September 11 had led to a fundamental change in budgetary priorities. He emphasized that President Bush wanted to honor his campaign commitment to LWCF, but times had changed, both in terms of the war on terrorism and the economy. “Interior’s role is different,” he said, “because the world is different.”

The Recreation Exchange series is made possible by the following sponsors:

American Association for Nude Recreation
American Horse Council
American Motorcyclist Association
Bureau of Land Management
Bureau of Reclamation
Family Campers and RVers
Honda North America
Kampgrounds of America
Motorcycle Industry Council
National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds
National Marine Manufacturers Association
National Park Service
National Recreation and Park Association
Personal Watercraft Industry Association
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association
Recreation Vehicle Industry Association
Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association
USDA Forest Service