As President Trump makes another trip abroad, we want to bring international spending back into the spotlight. The United States is the most generous country in the world when it comes to foreign aid, and the U.S. has many foreign related agencies and programs. Indeed, there is arguably value in having a prevalent international presence.
However, when programs begin to multiply, and therefore, duplicate themselves, our government and its programs start to lose integrity. That is why for this week’s Throwback Thursday we are highlighting a duplicative international parks program featured in “Parked: How Congress’ Misplaced Priorities Are Trashing Our National Parks.”
The Office of International Affairs (OIA) was created over 50 years ago by the National Park Service (NPS), and “has worked to facilitate cooperation between the U.S. National Park Service and counterpart agencies around the globe.”
“The Office of International Affairs (OIA) is the NPS focal point for international activities and serves as the primary contact for other DOI bureaus, agencies, foreign governments, and international and private organizations on park and conservation related matters,” according to “Parked.”
A highlight from the Coburn report included an Italian film festival that is STILL judged by NPS Rangers today. The OIA sends a representative to the Sondrio International Film Festival of Parks, “an Italian film festival that features films about parks and protected areas.”
Recent OIA trips have also included Park Rangers providing technical assistance in Chile by building “a new suspension bridge over a ‘quebrada’ (ravine) on the famous ‘W’ backpacking trail,” and traveling to Germany on a “public diplomacy mission,” where a Park Ranger “met with a group of 8th grade students to talk about the NPS and the job of a park ranger.” While it is nice to be able to help foreign countries and their respected national parks, the NPS allocates over$1.65 million to the OIA annually, which takes away valuable resources for domestic parks that are facing challenges of a $11 billion deferred maintenance backlog.
In addition to questionable expenditures, the OIA also duplicates other federal programs. The Department of Interior, the Park Service’s parent agency, has a similar program called the International Technical Assistance Program (DOI-ITAP). According to DOI’s website, “DOI‐ITAP builds capacity in other countries by drawing from the diverse expertise of DOI employees.” DOI-ITAP expertise includes wildlife management, tourism, natural disasters, energy, mining, and more.
There are many other programs that accomplish similar goals including, “The U.S. Agency for International Development, the Global Environment Facility, international conservation and international wildlife trade programs, including the Wildlife Without Borders program,” and others.
Providing help to other countries is certainly a priority for the United States, but when our own parks have lost their luster due to funding shortages, focusing internally may be the best for all Americans. In addition, programs that have similar objectives should be evaluated and eliminated if they are deemed duplicative. When we have done everything we can to assure the success of our own parks, then we can begin to address the needs of others.
Read the full report here!