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Park Service systems face cuts to bolster core operations

The Bush administration is placing too much emphasis on information technology, security and maintenance at national parks and not enough on core operating programs, according to the conference report to the omnibus spending bill Congress passed earlier this month.

The assertion comes nearly five months after the House passed a spending bill, H.R. 4568, for the Interior Department and related agencies that called for more than $1 million in cuts to e-government spending.

Recent budgets "have not sufficiently addressed growing shortfalls in core operating programs at the parks," negotiators wrote in the conference report to the omnibus bill, which now includes Interior funding. "The budget of the National Park Service (NPS) cannot continue to be limited to a few parks and purposes while core visitor-service requirements are going unmet nationwide."

The omnibus bill, however, would provide $500,000 more than the House bill for the certification and accreditation of Interior's overall information technology systems. The measure also would allocate $300,000 more to Interior for accessible data transfer, another $50,000 for the enterprise services network and $1 million more for a category dubbed "regulation and technology."

The compromise would decrease by $1 million the information resources technology for the department's central office operations.

It also would direct the Office of Surface Mining to reprogram e-government funds earmarked for disaster management and SAFECOM to help fund fixed costs. SAFECOM is the program to coordinate wireless communications safety programs for the government.

The bill further would appropriate $1.7 billion for the general management, operation and maintenance of NPS operations. Of that amount, some $96 million would be reserved for maintenance and assessment projects, including the automated facility-management software system. The ongoing project provides detailed information on park assets and allows the department to monitor and prioritize maintenance needs.

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., spearheaded a campaign to include a permit-tracking system in the bill. The move came after the Bureau of Land Management increased the fee for obtaining a mining claim on federal land from $100 to $125. The bill would drop that fee back to $100 until the government can develop a system to track permits given to people who want to take minerals from public lands.

The measure also includes funding for several state-based technology programs, including: $600,000 for the Washington state rural technology initiative; $300,000 for a technology transfer program in Coweeta, N.C.; an increase of $500,000 over the House's funding proposal for the Rocky Mountain Technology Foundation; and an increase of $600,000 over the Senate's spending plan for the Offshore Technology Research Center in Texas.