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IN THESE TIMES of national transition and world reorientation, a critical question might be overlooked: What should Congress do about the national parks? Although the environment was considered a winner in this election, the parks have been losers for more than a decade and are in desperate need of attention.

Traditionally, Congress has been responsible for creating new laws to resolve public concerns. You provide the budgets for these programs, but you have little time to review their effectiveness. Oversight--the careful evaluation of the implementation of federal programs--has been sorely lacking for national parks.

Congress created the National Park Service in 1916 with the vision that NPS should preserve the resources of the national parks for future generations and provide for appropriate public enjoyment. Now it is time for congressional oversight to make sure that the Service's programs are the right programs and that the national parks are being maintained in the same condition or better than they were when our generation inherited them. That is not now the case.

The Clean Air Act is one example of lack of oversight. Although the Act contains specific provisions intended to protect and enhance the air quality of national parks, air pollution in several parks continues to increase. The most recent amendments to the Clean Air Act may actually encourage more power plants to locate near national parks in the cleanest air basins. Congress has failed to follow through on this issue.

If Americans across the nation are upset about anything, it is this lack of oversight, this sense that no one is minding the store. It seems that federal programs are created and then seldom reassessed. And money is thrown away, often just for the sake of fattening local public works.

Misplaced priorities are prevalent in the National Park Service. Money is spent for unnecessary construction projects, while park rangers live in abominable housing and work for meager salaries; while the basic infrastructure built in the '30s, '40s, and '50s breaks down; while we still wait for science to take its rightful place in park management. Today, park visitors rarely have the opportunity to interact with park interpreters and are left instead to do "self-guided tours," while NPS staff is burdened with collecting trash, directing traffic, and enforcing the law. A nation is more than the sum of its economic and social institutions. It is also known by the symbols of its past and its potential. It is our hope that, in this time of great need and limited resources, these symbols--our national parks--will not be forgotten.

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Title Annotation:supervision of federal programs
Author:Pritchard, Paul C.
Publication:National Parks
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:The Blue and the Gray.
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