On Tuesday, June 14, the House Subcommittee On National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, Committee on Natural Resources, held a hearing to consider eight bills pending before the Subcommittee. The Coalition submitted written testimony for the record in support of H.R. 7615, the Lodging Options Developed for Government Employees (LODGE) Act; H.R. 7693, the National Park Foundation Reauthorization Act; and H.R. 6442, the Partnerships Agreements Creating Tangible Savings (PACTS) Act. Witness testimony and members of the Subcommittee, in general, expressed support for the measures, with requests from the NPS witness, Lena McDowall, deputy director, management and administration, to work on technical and refining language to the measures.
The Coalition’s written testimony expresses its strong support for the LODGE Act, which we worked with Subcommittee staff during its development. Citing the need from longstanding deferred maintenance on existing units and the impact of unaffordable, unavailable housing units, especially in resort communities, the NPS is hindered in its ability to attract and retain needed staff, including seasonal staff, to provide visitor services within the Parks. An area of concern expressed by the Coalition is the lack of authority NPS would have if the only viable land for housing existed outside existing park boundaries. The Coalition requested the Committee amend the bill to grant NPS limited boundary adjustment authority for such purposes. In her testimony, Ms.McDowall requested clarifying language pertaining to housing preference for federal employees, the ownership of buildings, the impacts of ownership when contracts expire, and reassurances that permanent private property would not be established in national parks.
The Coalition also expressed its support for the PACTS Act, which would expand NPS authority to enter into cooperative management agreements with Tribal governments and quasi-governmental entities. Additionally, the PACTS Act removes the requirement that the entities with which NPS enters into cooperative agreements have lands adjacent to NPS lands. NPS also supports the measure and requested technical amendments to 1) better define a quasi-governmental entity, 2) provide authority for entities engaged in a cooperative management agreement with NPS to co-locate offices and share facilities, and 3) adding a provision authorizing NPS to retain any funds received from reimbursement.
Finally, the Coalition and NPS expressed support for reauthorizing the National Park Foundation through 2030 and increasing its authorized appropriation from $5 million to $15 million.
Minority members of the Subcommittee then used the question period of the hearing to press Ms. McDowall on policy issues outside of the pending legislation on the hearing agenda. Their questions focused on matters including oil and gas leases, pipelines, and implementation of Great American Outdoors Act. Their questions often were contentious. Chair Neguse attempted to calm the minority questioning by noting Ms. McDowall is a career civil servant who was before the Committee to discuss the pending eight bills. He indicated a more general oversight hearing on NPS would be a more appropriate setting for the types of questions being asked and is open to that possibility.