Earmarks & Pork: Popular and Dangerous

The need to remove government from land management is illustrated in a recent article from the AP: Earmarks prove popular, dangerous:

Given the recent headlines, lawmakers might seem eager to do away with earmarks, the narrowly drawn legislative provisions that pay for pet projects.

A former congressman and lobbyist are in prison because of earmark abuses, the Senate's senior Republican is under federal investigation regarding earmarks, and President Bush has called for their end.

Yet they are more popular than ever. Their resilience and controversy are central to a Senate vote scheduled Thursday on an ethics bill that some call groundbreaking and others call weak.

Hammered by scandals and heavy criticism from editorial pages, Senate leaders are urging colleagues to follow the House's lead in voting to require greater disclosure of earmarks.

But only a few lawmakers talk of eliminating them altogether, and the reason is simple: While many Americans criticize earmarks in general, they seem to love them when they result in a new bridge, senior center, [national historic site] or employer in their home town.
How does this relate to land management?

Ted Stevens of Alaska, the Senate's longest-serving Republican, is facing two federal probes involving earmarks.

Stevens has dealt with much smaller earmarks that may prompt colleagues to rethink the practice's political cost-benefit ratio.
About $700,000 of nearly $4 million directed to the National Park Service was paid to companies associated with Trevor McCabe, a former legislative director for Stevens, according to officials familiar with the deals. That's a pittance in federal spending terms, but illustrative of the often questionable relationships between earmarks and the general public's best interests, say some lawmakers and outside groups.
Stevens throwing McCabe a $700,000 bone. Didn't even have to compete for it. How inflated is that number for the work that was done?

If national parks were managed to be self-sufficient and didn't rely on Congress for money, corruption and waste could be purged from the system resulting in a net benefit for the public and the parks.

And at Amy Ridenour's National Center Blog, I found a list of legislation passed that threatens property rights and promises to increase the bureaucracy of the NPS while simultaneously draining its resources:

- The "National Heritage Areas Partnership Act" (S. 278), a bill that would establish "a system of National Heritage Areas" throughout the country, thereby accelerating the creation of new national heritage areas.

National heritage areas are congressionally designated preservation zones where the National Park Service and select special interest groups ... as a partner to manage local land use policy. In other words, they result in federal and special interest land use planning.

The federal government funds the interest groups and the interest groups spend money lobbying local governments for land use restrictions in the heritage area. In addition, the interest groups gain the added muscle of the National Park Service to strengthen their influence.

Entranced by the opportunity to siphon millions of dollars of pork back to their home states and districts, congressmen rarely pay any mind to the negative property rights implications associated with national heritage areas.

Should S. 278 eventually become law, expect congressmen to line up at the trough to get their slice of the national heritage area pie.

- Legislation (S. 289, S. 443, S. 444, S. 800, S. 955) to create five new national heritage areas, including the especially controversial "Journey Through Hallowed Ground."

- Legislation (S. 817, S. 1182) to expand the boundaries and/or increase funding for six existing national heritage areas and corridors. Note that funding for national heritage areas is supposed to terminate after a specified period of time. This is one of the big talking points from the pro-heritage area crowd. They claim that they only need millions of federal dollars over a period of a 10 or 15 years, after which point they'll be self-sufficient and no longer in need of federal support. To date, no heritage area has ever had its federal funding terminated. When they reach their funding expiration, they simply ask Congress to extend their funding, and Congress is only too happy to oblige. As such, heritage areas are permanent drains on federal resources, and on a National Park Service that currently suffers a multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog crisis.

- Legislation (H.R. 1100) to grant land acquisition authority to the federal government to expand the boundaries of a National Historic Site.

- Legislation (S. 637, H.R. 407) to "study" the prospect of creating two more national heritage areas.