A Vacation Idea- Visit Badhdad This Summer

Were you like me- planning to visit a national park this summer? I was thinking of going back to Glacier National Park again- one of my favorite places- until I read this article:

Visitors to national parks will feel squeeze of budget cuts
By Matt Stearns
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration has ordered America’s national parks to show that they can function at 80 percent or less of their operating budgets, and that’s forcing some parks to cut services for visitors as summer approaches. National Park Service officials said the initiative was an effort to cope with the rising costs of salaries, utilities and other management expenses without harming the parks’ “core” missions of protecting the nation’s natural treasures and enabling visitors to enjoy them. The Park Service has more than 270 million visitors annually. But park officials in the field said the initiative was forcing “gut-wrenching” decisions that visitors would notice. At many parks, volunteers will take on larger roles and there’ll be fewer interpretive ranger programs, the officials said. At Glacier National Park in Montana, three campgrounds no longer will have potable water or trash service this summer.

President Bush is proposing to cut another $100.5 million from the national parks’ $2.1 billion budget next year. According to a report this month by the Government Accountability Office, the parks have an estimated $5 billion maintenance backlog, and even before the cost-cutting began, many of them had moved from slashing back-office operations to trimming visitor services. At the same time, the parks are facing rising costs. Payroll, utilities, fleet and other fixed operating costs have increased yearly. Pay raises alone have been about 4 percent a year. At Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, utility costs increased 46 percent from 2003 to 2005.

Of course, I am sure the cuts were made to eliminate all the waste and inefficiency. . .

But an internal Park Service analysis of the initiative that was provided to Knight Ridder says “there is no analysis of effectiveness – efficiency was primarily defined as reducing costs.” The memo concludes that the initiative “is less of a planning tool to manage effectiveness or efficiency but more of a tool to reduce cost.” “We support looking at ways to become efficient,” said Blake Selzer, the legislative director of the National Parks Conservation Association, an independent advocacy group for the national park system. “But … not as a justification for an insufficient budget request. Do we really want our Park Service to be the bare minimum? Out of respect for our national treasures, we’d argue not.” “If you’re looking to trim it back to 80 percent of current funding, you’re going to go below core operations,” said Bill Wade, the chairman of the executive council of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, a group of former high-level employees.

As I was about to give up any hope of a vacation this summer, I saw this article:

U.S. Building Massive Embassy in Baghdad
U.S. Building Massive Embassy in Baghdad That Will Be the Largest of Its Kind in the World
By CHARLES J. HANLEY AP Special Correspondent

BAGHDAD, Iraq Apr 14, 2006 (AP)- The fortress-like compound rising beside the Tigris River here will be the largest of its kind in the world, the size of Vatican City, with the population of a small town, its own defense force, self-contained power and water, and a precarious perch at the heart of Iraq’s turbulent future.The new U.S. Embassy also seems as cloaked in secrecy as the ministate in Rome.”We can’t talk about it. Security reasons,” Roberta Rossi, a spokeswoman at the current embassy, said when asked for information about the project.

The embassy complex 21 buildings on 104 acres, according to a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report is taking shape on riverside parkland in the fortified “Green Zone,” just east of al-Samoud, a former palace of Saddam Hussein’s, and across the road from the building where the ex-dictator is now on trial.

“Embassy Baghdad” will dwarf new U.S. embassies elsewhere, projects that typically cover 10 acres. The embassy’s 104 acres is six times larger than the United Nations compound in New York, and two-thirds the acreage of Washington’s National Mall.Original cost estimates ranged over $1 billion, but Congress appropriated only $592 million in the emergency Iraq budget adopted last year.

I think I understand why we need to cut the National Park budgets.

It will have its own water wells, electricity plant and wastewater-treatment facility, “systems to allow 100 percent independence from city utilities,” says the report, the most authoritative open source on the embassy plans.Besides two major diplomatic office buildings, homes for the ambassador and his deputy, and the apartment buildings for staff, the compound will offer a swimming pool, gym, commissary, food court and American Club, all housed in a recreation building.

Let’s see. . . Glacier campgrounds with no potable water, no trash service or “Embassy Baghdad” with swimming pool, gym, food court and an “American Club.” That’s a no brainer. I am going to book a reservation at Embassy Baghdad for my vacation this summer. Of course, if I can’t make it this summer, there is no hurry. I have a feeling we will be in Iraq a long long time


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