J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Cuts at National Historical Park This Summer

The federal budget cuts under “sequestration” will affect the U.S. National Park Service for the rest of this federal fiscal year, to the end of September. The National Geographic Education blog explains:
The terms of the sequestration require the National Park System to cut 5 percent, or $134 million, from its overall budget. Because each park receives its own budget, each park must cut 5 percent of its spending. This requirement is especially hard-hitting because the cuts are coming half-way through the year after the parks have already spent part of their yearly budget. Additionally, the cuts are coming on the cusp of the summer season when parks are typically increasing their staffing and costs of operations to meet the demand of summer tourists.
As I understand it, the Park Service’s central office told each site to preserve critical services and personnel as much as possible. But I’m sure people will notice some effects, and I hope they’ll recognize the root of the problem.

Most parks that I’ve heard about will still have full-time rangers giving tours this summer. But there won’t be so many seasonal rangers to provide more tours at the busiest times and help out in other ways. There won’t be so many “non-critical” programs for the public.

There will definitely be cuts behind the scenes. As the Boston Globe reports, Minute Man National Historical Park will face “delays on replacing equipment,” and “rangers will likely have to lend a hand with basic maintenance, while volunteers help with guided tours and staffing visitor centers.”

At Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters in Cambridge, the contract to clean the visitor center and its bathrooms has been canceled. The permanent staff will take up that task, which might mean they won’t be able to give so many tours during the day.

Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters also has a long-running summer festival of concerts and poetry readings, free to all. The park had to cut its financial contribution to those events, and a non-profit group (with whom I work) is scrambling to fill the gap. This summer’s schedule may therefore be shorter than usual.

At Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia (shown above), the local N.B.C. affiliate reported that Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell will close at 5:00 P.M., affecting about 150,000 visitors; several related historic buildings won’t open to the public at all; and all ranger-led walking tours and programs are canceled.

And of course the cuts mean less money going to the students and teachers who are often seasonal rangers, to the cleaning contractors, to the equipment makers, and to other private enterprises that do work for the Park Service.

Most economists advise against such government austerity when the economy is recovering from recession and the currency is strong; Britain’s government chose otherwise and is suffering no growth or a secondary recession. In the U.S. government, the House of Representatives (where the Republican majority received 1.4 million fewer votes than the Democratic minority) has been demanding such deep cuts, and with “sequestration” achieved that goal. This summer we’ll see how we the people like the results.


Anonymous said...

We hate to say this, but recent archival research suggests that the federal government shouldn't fund museums anyway. You can find the report at:


Either way, anytime budget concerns threaten park sites it gets the reenacting community up in arms, inspiring them to write letters like this one:


These recent cuts seem to support our contention that pure history doesn't sell and we, as its stewards, do a lousy job of demonstrating the importance of history and historic sites. Either that, or we really aren't relevant in this form anymore. We're rooting for the former.

T.H. Gray, Director-Curator
American Hysterical Society

Anonymous said...

This has nothing to do with austerity. According to the Feb 2013 CBO report the Federal government will spend $15 billion more this year than last year, even with sequestration.
Those of us who have managed large budgets know the game the Administration is playing. Rather than look where you can reasonably restrain spending, you make the cuts in the areas most visible to the public and which are designed to provoke the most outrage.
Btw, sequestration was a bipartisan policy approach to solving the 2011 budget crisis.

J. L. Bell said...

T. H. Gray of the American Hysterical Society seems to recognize the potential for parody in the reenacting/history community. The anonymous comment repeats right-wing talking points without recognizing they verge on parody as well.

"Sequestration" was proposed and adopted by leaders of both parties as a terrible threat that everyone would work to avoid. They knew those cuts wouldn't come until after a national election that both sides hoped to win. The national economy, tax policy, and budget priorities were heavily debated in that election. The result? President Obama was reelected, and the Democrats took more seats in Congress. The people's priorities seem clear.

If national vote totals for Representatives were reflected in the lower House, the Democrats would control that chamber, too. Does any rational person think that "sequestration" would have proceeded in that case? Of course not. We have the Republican House to thank for the cuts in the middle of this budget year.

(Based on the track record of the last decades, the federal budget and deficit would have gone up under a Republican Congress and White House—faster than under the recent Democratic administrations.)

The anonymous commenter attacks "the Administration" with false charges. People who follow this issue know that the "sequestration" law was written to cut across the board—meaning it affects the popular National Park Service at the same percentage as every other agency. The Park Service central offices told parks to cut "non-critical" functions, not "the most visible." As I noted above, this means keeping sites open with permanent staff but fewer seasonal rangers and contractors. That means cutting back on hours, not closing popular sites to rile the public. In sum, it's entirely different from what the anonymous commenter claims.

The anonymous commenter obviously has no direct knowledge of the situation and is simply parroting what the right-wing media has told her or him.

Waldo4me said...

Out here, in my corner of the world, Yellowstone National Park is a huge part of our culture, history, and economy. So, when the cuts hit YNP the superintendent announced that they would delay opening the park for at least two weeks thereby saving money normally used to plow snow. A good solution to his budget situation.

But, local communities and the state of WY arrived at another solution. The nearby towns of WY raised enough money and the WY DOT provided the snow removal equipment to take over the plowing and open the park on time.

If we are to get our deficit spending under control it's going to take some sacrifice and innovative problem solving. I like our solution: no finger pointing, no doom and gloom scenario, only a take charge and get it done attitude. Who knows, maybe this sort of problem solving will catch on! In the meantime, hats off to Governor Mead and the various WY governments.