America Outdoors Association
America Outdoors Association

February 11, 2013

America Outdoors Association Bulletin

AOA Headed to Washington Next Month. Find Out Why Below.

Sequestration Likely Unavoidable.  Federal Agencies Plan to Curb Access.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees  issued a press release outlining NPS' instructions to staff on how to plan for a 5% reduction in funding. The retirees claim sequestration would turn National Parks into “ghost towns”.  (See the full NPS budget sequestration plan).

NPS is planning to cut back on seasonal employees, curb hours of operation and suspend non-essential services.  It’s hard to see how a 5% cut in revenue should result in the Parks becoming “ghost towns” but that is how the Coalition describes the potential impacts. As the budget battles begin so does the hyperbole. Unlike the budget cuts proclaimed by both parties in the 2011 package, which included many accounting gimmicks such as hundreds of millions in deductions for already cancelled projects and elimination of typos which had previously funded highways that did not exist (according to the Washington Post), the looming sequestration will result in some real cuts as well as some reductions in budget growth.

In the internal NPS memo Director Jarvis said, "We expect that a cut of this magnitude, intensified by the lateness of the implementation, will result in reductions to visitor services, hours of operation, shortening of seasons, and possibly the closing of areas during periods when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, resources, and government assets."

The following is an excerpt from Director Jarvis’ Instructions to NPS staff on development of a sequestration plan:
Programmatic impacts of required reductions: Use the provided area to describe tangible, programmatic impacts of the required 5% reduction. Be sure to include impacts to your recreation fee account if applicable. (See amount that is calculated for your organization in the “Recreation fee reduction amount required” box on the template to determine applicability.) Examples of such impacts include reductions to visitor services, hours of operation, shortening of seasons and possibly the closing of areas during periods when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, resources, and government assets.

The link to the Coalition of National Park Retirees includes documents which will become each Park's sequestration planning which they are supposed to submit to the Director or his designate. Impacted communities should endeavour to obtain and review those plans.

While we understand the difficulties facing federal agencies, to suggest there isn’t room for improving efficiency and streamling agency processes without impacting visitor services is hard to take. Auditing all agencies’ processes, duplicative functions, inefficent organizational structures and services would be a good place to start. Both NPS and the Forest Service are afflicted with a serious case of process bloat. 

All federal land managing agencies are planning for sequestration and will likely to try to reduce access to public lands, which in some areas is understandable where public health and safety is at risk.  A BLM staffer speaking off the record said they were preparing for up to 28 days of furloughs, although his assessment may have been based on full-year sequestration of 8%.  He predicted that outfitter operations and public access would be impacted if this occurred.

Even with sequestration, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the deficit for FY 2013 will exceed $850 billion.  Both CBO and the General Accounting Office have termed the current budget deficit “unsustainable”.  CBO sounded the alarm last week with a projection of the national debt reaching 77% of GDP by 2020.  So there are many more shoes to drop.

AOA is asking Congress to get involved in the agencies' planning for budget sequestration to ensure that access to public lands and the economic benefits are not interrupted. 

Vice Chairman of House Transportation Committee Asks the FMCSA to Stop Shutting Down Legitimate Outfitter Operations When the Only Material Violation Is No MC Authorization

In a letter to Administrator Anne Ferro, Representative John Duncan (TN) told the Administrator that it seemed  “unnecessary” to shutdown outfitter and guide services and similar operations when the only material issue is failure to have a Motor Carrier Authorization (obtained by filing an OP-1).  Rep. Duncan further stated that “It would appear that safety issues do not justify implementation of a vast new wave of Motor Carrier Authorization requirements for vans used by these businesses for indirect compensation.”  Representative Duncan asked Administrator Ferro to work with him through legislation or other means to resolve this problem.

At least two outfitter operations were shutdown last year by FMCSA inspectors for failure to have a Motor Carrier Authorization, in addition to a DOT number. With higher fines in place, AOA expects even more aggressive enforcement in 2013.  On October 1, 2012 the fine was increased to $25,000 for failure to obtain the appropriate Motor Carrier Authorization (by filing an OP-1) for businesses carrying passengers across state lines or the U.S. border in a regulated, for hire commercial motor vehicle (CMV) subject to FMCSA regulations. The regulations apply to for hire carriage for direct and indirect compensation for CMV’s such as 9 to 15 passenger vans and larger vehicles. Indirect compensation is similar to providing transportation or shuttles as part of an outfitted trip when transportation is incidental to the purpose of the trip. When that transportation crosses state lines, it is subject to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations and now requires a Motor Carrier Operating Authority in addition to DOT numbers and other regulatory requirements.

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