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LETTERS TO THE TIMES

Privatizing Park Personnel

August 23, 2003

Re "Punishing the Park Service's Good Deeds," by Bruce Babbitt, Opinion, Aug. 17: The Bush administration's policy of replacing park personnel with private contractors has less to do with privatization or saving money than with environmental policy.

Park employees -- particularly archaeologists, biologists and interpreters -- are, generally speaking, "environmentalists." They would resist, and have resisted, policies that would commercialize the parks. They are generally resistant to opening up the backcountry to commercial exploitation, whether it be by snowmobiles, motorbikes or off-road vehicles.

As any politician knows, such personnel can frustrate plans for exploitation, cooperate with environmental organizations and also rally the public through unofficial channels.

Dove Menkes

Fullerton

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President Bush wants to privatize operations at national parks. Gee, I didn't even know that Halliburton had a division of park management.

Ed Yeager

San Marino

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Babbitt never did seem to understand the essence of management. It's not allocating funds to preferred idealists who believe as he does. If he thinks that employees whose services are acquired by competitive sourcing are less capable of heroic deeds, such as he reports from his days as secretary of the Interior, he is prejudiced.

Why does he assume that low-wage temporary workers would automatically replace "archeologists, biologists, historians and museum curators"? Apart from his insulting people who flip hamburgers, he should realize that the results of any outsourcing will depend on what is specified by the contracts in the first place.

The crucial difference is that private contractors can be fired if they do not perform and rewarded if they exceed the intended goals. The reason privately owned agencies are more productive than federal agencies is their attention to the bottom line, as it represents the only real accountability for the taxpayer.

H.R. Richner

Costa Mesa

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Just when I thought we could stoop no lower, now Bush wants to privatize our national parks. Why not just turn over everything that we hold dear and sacred to competitive bid and get it over with? I can just see it now: My grandchildren will visit Zion National Park and will take a park tour with someone in coat and tie and cue cards.

Rangers were my heroes when I camped out as a child. They cared deeply about their work and the wilderness. Please, if you care, contact anyone of influence in Washington to act against this despicable idea.

Katherine F. Millard

Avila Beach

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I am one of the few dozen who maintain the wilderness trails of Los Angeles. It is largely a volunteer effort and will probably continue to be. Forestry staff is severely crippled, with financial constraints made worse by Bush's laughable stance on the environment. There is little that can or will be done in the near future to bring "paid" maintainers to the trails. Every cent that does make its way to the parks is already destined to go for fire prevention and law enforcement.

I ask your readers to volunteer. Our trails are a wonderful resource but are sorely diminished by fire, vandalism and neglect. Contact either of these organizations to find a trail crew to work with: San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders (www.sgm trailbuilders.org) or CORBA, the Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Assn. (www.corbamtb. com). See you on the trail!

Keith Goettert

Los Angeles

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I read Babbitt's article with dismay. Another victim of the "competitive sourcing" plan is the National Institutes of Health.

The NIH is the world's model organization for conducting health research. From basic genetic research to finding cures for hundreds of diseases to trying to prevent obesity and chronic diseases, the dedicated professionals at the NIH devote creativity, passion and lots of unpaid overtime to their life-and-death missions.

What do you think would be the quality of this work if it were done by the lowest-bidding for-profit company? When major research initiatives span decades, does it seem like a good idea to change the management when bids come up every five years? What are the benefits of more political and corporate control over our nation's health research? There are many other questions that need to be asked.

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James F. Sallis

Professor of Psychology San Diego State University

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