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Interview With Thomas Kiernan, Don Murphy

Aired July 4, 2003 - 19:38   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: There's a debate going on right now about our nation's national park systems. Some groups are very critical of the Bush administration's handling of the parks. It's a debate over money, over method and political motivation, frankly.
Joining us from Washington are Don Murphy, the deputy director of the National Park Service, and Thomas Kiernan, the president of the National Parks Conservation Association. Gentlemen, appreciate both of you joining us.

Thomas, let me start off with you. Your organization says that the Bush administration deserves a "D-" in their policies towards the parks. Why?

THOMAS KIERNAN, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL PARKS CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION: Well, let me start by pointing out that there are some projects and policies that the administration's pushing forward that are positive, that are good for the parks, and Don will probably speak to those. But setting that aside, the administration is not able to follow through on the president's pledge to eliminate the backlog of road and building projects, as well the annual operating budget of the parks that pays for the salaries and benefits of the parks service staff, is still woefully underfunded by about one-third.

COOPER: This backlog you talk about was roughly I believe estimated to be $2.9 billion, is that correct?

KIERNAN: Actually $4.9 billion, and current numbers, rough numbers in January of this year still have it somewhere between $4 and $6 billion, so it's still very much there.

But the administration's policies go much beyond that. They have weakened the Clean Air Act, so air pollution in some of our national park will get worse, not better. They also increased the number of snowmobiles in Yellowstone instead of phasing them out, and other policies as well that we believe will be much more harmful to our national parks.

COOPER: All right, let me bring Don in here. Don, you used to actually be on the board of this organization. You say this whole D- thing is just ridiculous. Why, and what's going well with the parks?

DON MURPHY, NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE: Well, I think the D- thing is just a gimmick that environmental groups use. The truth of the matter is the $2.9 billion that you referred to earlier has actually already been spent towards the addressing the $4.9 billion maintenance backlog in the parks. And what's more than that, coming in this administration, say, what we really need is management reform for our maintenance, and we've for the first time inventoried over 75,000 facilities in the national parks, developed condition indexes so that now we can start planning systematically for addressing the facility maintenance needs of parks, something that's never happened before.

We've done over 900 projects since this administration has been in, 500 are in the pipeline. The people that go and visit their parks right now, they are going to have a good time, they are going to see clean restrooms, well staffed visitor centers, and the pictures you were showing on the mall show how people who are out there enjoying their parks right know.

COOPER: Thomas, all that sounds good. What has you worried a lot is the notion of privatization of the parks. Do you believe that's going to happen and if so why is that bad in your opinion?

KIERNAN: We are concerned about the privatization, but let me first point out one of the past records of the park service, Roger Galvin (ph), or excuse me, Roger Kennedy (ph), actually believes that our D- was quite generous to this administration and is concerned about the deceptive rhetoric coming from this administration.

Our concern with the privatization is the administration's studying up to 70 percent of our National Park Service jobs to privatize out to the lowest contract bidder, the lowest provider of prices out there, some company. We believe that some of...

COOPER: What's wrong with privatization? I mean, people say they become more efficient, things are run better often.

KIERNAN: NPSA supports some privatization. We do not support a radical management experiment to privatize up to 70 percent of our national park service jobs. That we think is irresponsible.

COOPER: All right, Don, is there a radical policy out there to privatize the parks?

MURPHY: Well, of course not. Well, of course not. You talk about deceptive rhetoric. First of all, 70 percent of the jobs in the National Park Service aren't being studied. It's only certain classifications. It's called competitive sourcing. And it's really just looking at jobs in the National Park Service that might be better done by contractors. And, in fact, we have 48,000 employees in the National Park Service. Half of which -- over half of which are contractors and concessionaires already.

You know, the National Park Conservation Association or any other group cannot point to any jobs that we've eliminated as a result of competitive sourcing. All we're doing is really taking a hard look at how we're managing to put in the most efficient and effective systems, actually so that people when they come to the parks can have the best time and find their facilities in the best possible condition. That's what we're doing.

COOPER: All right, clearly a difference of opinion here. We're not going to get it solved tonight. Appreciate both of you, though, joining us on this national holiday. Thomas Kiernan and Don Murphy, appreciate it.


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