Despite all the talk about deficit-cutting and the budget crisis that nearly shut down the federal government in October, members of Congress seem to have no trouble in finding last-minute money for favorite pork barrel projects.
More and more frequently, such projects are added to the National Park Service budget, although they are often economic development gimmicks that have little or nothing to do with what is normally considered national parks. Once acquired, such projects become a permanent drain on the federal treasury.While agonizing over cutting the budget and slashing Medicare this fall, Congress suffered no pangs of conscience in taking President Bush's construction budget for the Park Service and tripling it to $271 million.
The reaction of Park Service officials was unusual for bureaucrats. They were not happy with the money and many of the projects.
The projects included such things as an "industrial heritage" park in several economically troubled Pennsylvania counties. Why? Well, the area was the site of the first U.S. aluminum factory. Then there is money for an old rail yard in Pennsylvania that has been described as a "third rate" collection of locomotives; renovation of an old West Virginia theater that is now a four-screen movie house; and a park and museum in Tennessee for the birthplace of Cordell Hull, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's secretary of state. The Park Service complained that honors former presidents, not former secretaries of state. To no avail.
The Park Service says it is interested in new parks or historic sites of national significance, but many projects are not in that category. Often, such projects are included in appropriations bills at the last moment without any debate. There is no professional study by the Park Service, no public involvement and no congressional hearings.
This is the way Congress likes to do business when it can, especially if the business involves spending the public's money on a pet project.
No wonder the joke around Washington these days is that the National Park Service should be renamed the National Pork Service. And it is getting too true to be funny.