ARRA Newsletter - October 2012Oct 3, 2012
Continuing Resolution... continuing problems
Before leaving Washington to go back home to campaign for re-election, the House and the Senate did approve a six-month continuing resolution to fund the federal government through March, 2013.
And, as we predicted in last month's newsletter, additional funds were appropriated to be used to fight wildfires, $800 million to be exact. Both the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior were the beneficiaries of this additional funding for fire suppression, an acknowledgement that this year's fire season is on track to become the worst on record…more than 7 million acres have been consumed by wildfires and that number is likely to grow higher before the season is over.
Engine crews work to combat fires on Idaho BLM wildland. (BLM photo)
Both the House and Senate will reconvene on November 13th, a week after Election Day. The primary focus of the Lame Duck session will be how to deal with the upcoming sequestration deadline for $1.2 trillion in spending cuts that is scheduled to occur on January 2, 2013. My best guess is that they will defer that deadline until sometime in early spring to allow the new Congress time to solve this vexing problem. Even then, it might be difficult to avoid falling off that fiscal cliff. For the sake of our national economy, let's hope they will rise to the occasion and deal with these difficult budget issues.
Here is just a short update about the most recent status of the Recreational Trails Program. We reported in the last newsletter that only two states opted out of the program, Florida and Kansas. After the Kansas media reported on that state's decision not to participate in RTP, the Kansas Department of Transportation issued a press release on September 14th with the news that the state would be allocating $2 million for recreational trails from the $366 million it will receive in federal transportation funding. Under the RTP formula, Kansas would have received $1.3 million.
The press release made reference to the decision to opt out of RTP and the fact that the state would be allocating even more money for recreational trails. Obviously, state officials were feeling some political heat from the Kansas recreation community over the opt-out decision and the higher allocation was an attempt to temper those concerns. On the surface, this result is very good news.
What remains unknown is whether the state will continue to use an advisory committee of citizens for advice on trails grants or whether the decision-making process will rest solely with state officials. Also unknown is whether the state will continue to split funding between motorized and non-motorized projects as specified by RTP or whether they will come up with a new formula that advantages certain types of recreational trails. We hope that will not be the case, but the Kansas situation deserves close attention in the coming months.
Quality Customer Service?
Accumulated litter on National Forest Service land.
While attending the August NOHVCC Conference in Montana, I heard a story about a local OHV club that had tried for more than two years to enter into a cooperative working relationship with its local National Forest. It seems that back in June, 2010, a Forest Service Public Service Team Leader suggested that the OHV club sign an "Agreement for Sponsored Voluntary Services" before continuing to pick up trash in that particular National Forest. It seemed like a good idea to the club, so the club president went to the local Forest Service office and the form was prepared by the Forest Service staff. The club president signed the form and the only thing remaining to make the agreement official was the signature of the District Ranger.
After two years of waiting, the club president wrote and said that his club wanted to continue to help the Forest Service, but what about the agreement? The response from the same Public Service Team Leader was astounding. The Team Leader wrote that this issue had "slipped through the proverbial cracks of the floor." He also said that at about the time the club signed the original "old" agreement, the agency issued a different agreement for use with volunteer groups. He attached the new agreement and asked that it be filled out and returned to his office. Then as an aside, he wrote that, "for future reference, picking up garbage off of our or any National Forests - any public lands, for that matter - is routinely done by individuals and groups without any Agreement in place."
Now I haven't identified the local OHV club or the National Forest involved because I don't want to complicate their working relationship, but I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. This is not what I would call quality customer service on the part of that Public Service Team Leader. At a time of severe budget limitations, senior Forest Service officials say they want to facilitate the assistance of volunteer organizations to work on a variety of trail maintenance projects but clearly that word hasn't reached certain line officers. Perhaps additional training on customer service techniques might be in order
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