Statement for the Record
Philip A. Francis, Jr.
Chair of the Executive Council, Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Committee on Appropriations United States House of Representatives
FY 2025 Appropriations for the National Park Service, Department of the Interior

May 10, 2024

Chairman Simpson, Ranking Member Pingree, and members of the Subcommittee, I am Philip A. (Phil) Francis, Jr., Chair of the Executive Council of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition). The Coalition is a non-profit organization composed of more than 2,500 retired, former and current employees of the National Park Service (NPS) who collectively have over 40,000 years of experience managing and protecting our national parks. The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s National Park System.  We appreciate the opportunity to present this statement for the record about the FY 2025 appropriations for the NPS, our national parks, and their partnership grant and assistance programs.

Our membership and the Executive Council of the Coalition speak on a regular basis with the leadership of the NPS, park superintendents and park staff, program managers in central and regional offices, as well as park partners and volunteers. The messages we receive are very similar with a sense of desperation setting in as annual appropriations and available funding have not kept up with the NPS mission Congress has mandated and entrusted to park employees.

Visitation has grown by ten percent over the past 10-12 years while park staff has been reduced by over 2,500 full-time equivalents. Congress recognized this situation and appropriated additional funds in some of the recent years’ appropriations bills, allowing the NPS to hire additional staff. Unfortunately, the current FY 2024 appropriations reversed this progress with $150 million less than the previous year’s funding, while also requiring NPS to absorb $125 million in fixed costs. The president’s budget for FY 2025 attempts to reverse this slide by requesting an additional $101 million for the NPS, which is appreciated, but still is inadequate to meet the needs of the NPS.

The NPS is at a crossroads, and your Subcommittee will determine the direction the agency will take. At the same time, your decisions will inform the American public of the importance you place on the protection of these nationally significant historical, cultural, and natural resources. In addition, you will be sending an important signal to those who visit our parks for recreational activities, for experiencing the historic buildings and related artifacts, and for learning about the stories told, what they can expect when they arrive. 

The NPS is facing an increasingly complex situation in managing park resources, as with the growing impacts from climate change. For example, recreational activities have been restricted at many of our water-based parks due to declining water levels at our lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and seashores. This is happening while both the House and Senate authorizing committees are considering comprehensive legislation to encourage more recreational activities among the visiting public at our national parks and public lands.

On top of fewer programs being available for the visiting public, the parks also are experiencing growing traffic and parking issues, overcrowding, the degradation of natural and cultural resources, and increasing safety and public health concerns for both visitors and employees. Staff are less able to carry out basic functions that are important to visitors, such as frequent cleaning of restrooms and emptying of refuse containers. In program offices, reduced staffing has resulted in less support for parks and programs. All of this has led to loss of employees through attrition, unfunded positions, and low staff morale; problems that are compounded by the increasing challenges presented by an inefficient hiring process.

Below are specific actions we recommend the Subcommittee take as it prepares the FY 2025 Interior appropriations bill to address the needs of the NPS.

1) Continuing to Enhance and Build Operational Capacity (ONPS).  The Coalition believes the top priority is providing an adequate appropriation for park operations that will allow the NPS to hire additional employees to replace some of those lost over the past 12 years.  The president’s budget recommends only an additional $21 million above the current year’s appropriation in this account. The Coalition recommends this be increased to at least an additional $250 million.

We place special emphasis on urging the Subcommittee to provide the amount needed for fixed costs to ensure park, regional, and program offices do not further deteriorate by having to absorb those costs in their base budgets. Additionally, the Coalition recommends the increased funding focus on staffing for new parks, parks experiencing dramatic increases in visitation, and those with new programs enacted by Congress. We also urge any increased funding provide adequately for youth programs and Americorps, which help develop our next generation of conservation stewards. These programs are so important for alerting young people to the gateways available for working in our national parks through park ranger, laborer, and wildland firefighting positions.

The Coalition continues to be concerned about the loss of almost 30 percent of cultural resource management positions in our national parks, regional, and program offices over the past decade. Many cultural resources, including historic buildings, museum objects, and archeological sites, are unmaintained, severely threatened, or degraded due to a lack of funding. 

Protection of these resources and the many compelling stories associated with our country’s history remain an important part of the NPS mandate. We urge the Subcommittee to continue to work with NPS on ways to address these issues within available funding. We recommend the Subcommittee include committee report language accompanying the FY 2025 bill that directs NPS to provide the Subcommittee with the status of vacant cultural resource positions, their anticipated ability to fill any of the vacant positions in the current fiscal year, and any recommendations they might have for prioritizing vacant positions for hiring in future fiscal years.

Further, the Coalition urges that the provision that has been repeated for multiple years in appropriations bills concerning the NPS being prohibited from reducing, mitigating, and implementing educational awareness regarding the use of toxic lead be removed so that the NPS can appropriately address the continuing human and wildlife threat of toxic lead in parks where firing ranges and recreational hunting and fishing activities occur. This will enable the parks to protect and restore resources while ensuring a safe and healthy public environment.

2) Construction. The president’s budget recommends $237.2 million for the Construction account, which is an increase of $65 million over the FY 2024 enacted level. The Coalition supports this funding as a needed partner to the mandatory funding provided by the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). The NPS construction funding helps to ensure cyclic maintenance and repair/rehab activities are carried out in a timely manner so that the backlog of NPS maintenance does not continue to grow.

Of particular importance to the Coalition is funding to address the NPS’ park housing needs. The FY 2025 budget recommends building on last year’s momentum by increasing the housing request by $9 million. The Coalition strongly supports this proposed increase to assist the parks in attracting and retaining the needed permanent and seasonal staffing who can live in affordable housing. Rental housing for temporary employees in resort areas has become almost non-existent due to the takeover of the rental market by weekly rentals. When government housing is unavailable, prospective employees either turn down jobs or quit when they cannot find a place to live. 

The Coalition continues to work with the House and Senate authorizing committees on additional authorities that the NPS and other federal land management agencies may need to address the critical housing needs of the parks. To help advance this effort, we recommend the Interior appropriations Subcommittee include in the bill a provision to authorize the NPS to fill vacant positions using local people who already live in the area and know the area well. Having this expanded authority, outside of the usual competitive process, would help reduce the need for providing some of the additional housing while taking advantage of the knowledge and experience of local people near the park. It also would reduce the number of times individuals are offered permanent positions at individual parks in remote, or high-priced areas, only to have the offers declined due to the inability of the individuals to find and/or afford the cost of available housing.

3) National Recreation and Preservation (NR&P) and the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF).  Within the president’s budget, various programs such as the National Register of Historic Places, Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance, and several grant programs including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation, Japanese American Confinement Sites, and National Heritage Areas, are funded under this account. 

The Coalition notes that these programs are critical to the partnership work of the NPS; they need adequate staff to fulfill their partnership responsibilities in a timely manner, which has been an area of critical concern in recent years. The president’s budget recommends a decrease in funding for these programs of almost $7 million. However, it recognizes that the work of administering these grant programs continues to grow with the addition of the African-American Burial Grounds Preservation program in the most recent Congress and, therefore, requests an additional $500,000 to assist with this increased workload. The Coalition recommends maintaining at least level funding for these programs in FY 2025 to confirm the importance of these partnership opportunities and the resources being protected.

An excellent example of NPS partnership activity is the collaboration through the Historic Preservation Fund, which preserves historically and culturally significant sites and provides competitive grants to non-Federal entities, including our Tribal nations. These partnerships have been of increasing importance to more and more parks through the Centennial Challenge program, with its matching funds from park partners for individual park projects. The Coalition supports these critical partnership opportunities as they often double the funding provided by Congress and increase the impact on park and associated historic and cultural resources.

4) Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). We note that the president’s budget outlines its priorities for using the mandatory funding appropriated through the GAOA in FY 2025. The NPS is appropriated $1.3 billion for various deferred maintenance programs through the Legacy Restoration Fund. This includes $25 million directed to Maintenance Action Teams (MAT) that carry out projects among the small and medium-sized parks throughout the nation. The Coalition believes this amount is too limited and we continue to emphasize that the needs of these smaller parks are just as important as the large parks and urge that the capacity of the MAT be increased to help these parks.

The Coalition is supportive of the $104 million in mandatory appropriations through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, also coming from the GAOA. We remain disappointed that only $58 million is recommended for NPS federal land acquisition when so many parks have private inholdings that are waiting to be acquired. We also note how the division of the $900 million available LWCF funding is heavily biased in the president’s recommendation with over $335 million being dedicated to NPS state assistance grants, and almost half of the total available funding being dedicated to this and other grant programs. We urge the Subcommittee to use its authority to redirect some of this funding to federal land acquisition to balance these funds more equitably commensurate with the need.

Thank you for consideration of our request.  We look forward to continuing to work with you during the consideration of the FY 2025 Interior appropriations bill.