Federal agencies spending thousands on employee travel while cutting local park services

by: Scott MacFarlane Updated:

The U.S. Interior Department posted a video warning about the stiff budget cuts it's facing.

WASHINGTON - If you're thinking of heading to one of our national parks this Memorial Day, you might be in for a surprise.

The national parks are being squeezed by federal budget cuts, reducing operations.

But there are complaints the National Park Service is still squandering tax money on trips, travel and fun for its own staff and executives.

The U.S. Interior Department posted a video warning about the stiff budget cuts it's facing.

"Those cuts will mean reduced operation, shorter season and the possible closure of campgrounds," the video said.

Included in those cuts could be potential reductions in field trips, tours and restrooms at Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield.

Despite all the reduced operations at parks nationwide Channel 2's Scott MacFarlane dug deeper and found the park service is still spending money on trips for its own staff rather than plowing the money into the parks.

MacFarlane found about $100,000 in federal transportation tax money will be spent to send employees to a June conference in Dayton for a conference on covered bridges.

A spokesman told MacFarlane the conference includes sessions about keeping those bridges safe and a covered bridges tour.

The park service is also sending about 10 staffers to an outdoor recreation conference in Michigan, which along with many training sessions for staff, also initially included a wine reception event, which was later cancelled.

A group representing park service workers said the National Park Foundation, a partner of the agency, is also coughing up $12 million on PR work for its 100th birthday celebration.

"Spending $12 million to celebrate the centennial while laying off thousands of people sends a disastrous mixed signals," said Jeff Ruch with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The National Park Foundation disputes the figure.  A spokesman says, "The National Park Foundation made an investment of $1 million of private funding to date. No additional funds have been allocated, or future funding determined, at this time."

The park service acknowledges spending money on marketing. A spokeswoman said the events are valuable.

The Department of the Interior has already taken aggressive steps to reduce spending across the agency and will continue to look for innovative ways to cut costs," the spokeswoman said in a statement to MacFarlane.

“The National Park Foundation, our national philanthropic partner, has retained a highly–respected communications firm to help ensure that our 2016 Centennial is both a celebration and an opportunity to invite all Americans to get to know their 401 national parks.  We appreciate the generosity of the Foundation who is funding this project and the expertise it is providing.  The National Park Service is not a party to the contract,” said National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst.