WASHINGTON-The controversial acting deputy director of the National Parks Service testified before a Senate committee Wednesday in opposition to legislation establishing various National Heritage Areas. That stance follows a reversal of previous NPS policy that established the sites.
Smith repeatedly cited the $11.6 billion maintenance backlog facing the National Park in his testimony opposing the creation of National Heritage Areas, and reminded the committee that National Heritage Areas were not a priority in the president’s 2018 or 2019 budget. The budget, which was released on Monday, called for a 7% cut to NPS funding, and also called for increasing admission prices to national parks up to $70.
The hearing was the first appearance on Capitol Hill for P. Daniel Smith as de facto head of the NPS. Smith, who came out of retirement to assume the post last month, formerly served as special assistant to the NPS Director. In 2004, an inspector general investigation found that he had improperly influenced officials at NPS to allow Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to cut down more than 130 trees in a scenic easement near his property which had remained untouched since the early 1970s. In a 2006 interview, Smith said the case involved “a legitimate request by a landowner who had a legitimate issue with the Park Service.”
Since the Trump administration has yet to pick a director for the NPS, Smith retains the authority of the director.
When Smith was named last month, the Potomac Conservancy, an environmental organization,
voiced displeasure. But no lawmakers, including the leadership of the senate subcommittee that oversees the NPS, have criticized the appointment.
Representatives of the National Parks Conservation Association and other pro-park organizations were in attendance at the hearing, which lasted only 20 minutes. Supporters of establishing National Heritage Areas-which draw federal funding, environmental protections, and increased tourism-expressed frustration at the DOI’s position against them.
“I think they’re focused on their own priorities of the backlog of maintenance,” said Shawn Pomaville-Size, who leads the Motor Cities National Heritage Area Partnership, a group which wants to establish a heritage area outside Detroit. “They are needing to look at the heart and soul of history and heritage tourism though the heritage areas.”
In 2004, after the inspector general’s office published the report on Smith, the NPS demoted him and transferred him to another posting. He remained at the NPS until 2014, when he retired.
Robert M. Danno, the NPS employee who brought the matter to light, said he was severely retaliated against for his whistle-blowing. He told the Washington Post that he was removed from his post, stripped of his gun, accused of theft, and threatened with termination.