They’re “Unnecessary” – Until They’re Not There

Years ago, I had a summer job as a park ranger at a state campground.  In my teen years, it had the reputation of being a “party campground,”  a place where a lot of people went to camp out, drink heavily, and get rowdy.   By the time I started working there, that had not been the case for a number of years, thanks to a crackdown by series of supervisors and park rangers.   Keeping it that way was my job, making sure that campers followed the rules, insuring that things remained peaceful, and keeping problems small.   Most of the time, it was a pretty dull job.   You drove and walked around  the campground, every now and then you’d have to stop and remind someone about some rule – quiet hours or removing anything that would attract bears – and check on various facilities.  Most of the shift reports said the equivalent of “nothing happened,”   which was the way the campers and the supervisor liked it.   That was the way things stood long after I left, until the budget cuts.

What happened was that various managers decided that the easiest cuts were to the park rangers.   After all, the campgrounds were “peaceful,” “quiet,” and they didn’t really need all those rangers.  It was an obvious budget cut.   While they were at it, they also decided that the park supervisors didn’t need to be out at night to check on things, and even more, to be paid for it.   After all, it was a waste of money and there was “no need.”    I heard about it from people I know who work in the campgrounds, because yes, they griped about it.

What happened?  The problems returned.  I learned of this from various family members who camp a lot, when they suddenly switched away from the campgrounds they used to frequent.  “It’s a mess there,”  “too noisy,”  “I don’t go camping to be surrounded by a bunch of out-of-control drunks.”   It turned out that the “unnecessary” and “extra” park rangers who’d been doing “nothing much” had indeed had an effect.  Because they’d done their jobs,  problems  didn’t happen, and they were seen as unnecessary – until they weren’t there.

This is just an example – one of many – where numerous conservatives don’t “get it.”  It’s fashionable these days to blame public workers for budget problems.  They’re “lazy,” “overpaid,” and “unnecessary.”  Never mind that study after study, in state after state, shows something quite different.  No, they’re not “overpaid,” and no they’re not “lazy.”  Unnecessary?  Well, once they’re gone, that’s when the shoe drops.   Suddenly, a service isn’t available.  Waits for various things that remain  increase remarkably.  Things that used to be done by public workers either are left to individuals or not done.   That’s been happening, and as various Tea Party politicians make their mark on states – and the federal government – it’s going to get much worse.

The reason I started thinking about this was because of the massive cuts to the federal budget proposed by the Republican House of Representatives.  Lots of government services and agencies are going under the axe, so they can cut unnecessary government spending.   They’re even willing to shut down the federal government to get their way.   Yes, and something else I saw.  There’s a map over at NOAA, which runs the Weather Service.  It’s a predicted spring flooding map, and in particular, shows which areas are the most likely to be hardest hit as the winter snow melts.  What’s interesting about it?  Most of the states that are going to be hardest hit are “conservative” states, strongholds of the Republican Party and with lots of Tea Party advocates.

Yes, those places are about to get a lesson.  You see, the first thing they’re going to do is scream for federal help.  They’re going to want loans, insurance, rebuilding funds, and emergency aid.  There’s a lot of agriculture there, and they’re rather assuming that there will be aid for crop losses.  Well, if the Republicans have shut down the government, or get their budget cuts, it isn’t going to happen.  The money and the people for those sorts of things won’t be there.  It’s all “unnecessary,” you see.   Until it’s not there.



Filed under Politics

18 responses to “They’re “Unnecessary” – Until They’re Not There

  1. Aquagranny911

    Nailed that one out of the ‘park’ Norbrook. I got a small lol because my son also did a couple of summers as a park ranger when he was in college. He’s been a back packer and camper since he was in high school so he still does that with his family. You may enjoy this story.

    In September he took his family camping and encountered some of what you described, a rowdy group disturbing the camp ground. His nearest tent neighbor was a man my son described as “looking like one of those biker dudes” but they struck up an acquaintance as you can do when camping. The other man had his young family with him and the families mingled, played, hiked, fished together etc.

    When the rowdiness occurred, disturbing other campers, “biker dude”
    convinced the rowdys to leave. Then he began to complain to my son about how liberals had allowed everything to go to “hell” and that this use to be “a great family place to camp” He and my son sat up a while and talked some real meaningful politics. Son gently set this guy straight on a few issues. The result was they made plans to camp together in future and this guy is on my email list. He told me he “wasn’t political” but he did go out with me once GOTV for Dems last fall.

    Old song lyrics: “You don’t know what you got til it’s gone……”

    Great diary and thanks for the memories.

    • Thanks. The park ranger story is just a small slice that I happen to be familiar with, but it shows the unintended consequences of budget cuts. When I was at that particular park, there were 4 of us, and we could count on the park supervisor and the assistant supervisor joining us in patrolling on weekend nights. Last year, I heard they had two rangers. One of the other parks used to have 3, and now it has 1. The supervisors and assistants are being “discouraged” from being out at night, and they no longer get overtime to do that. One of my friends who is still in the system said they’re being told that campers should come to the HQ if they have a problem – and as my friends said, if they come to the HQ at night to report a problem, it usually means you’re going to be calling an ambulance, the police, or both.

  2. Aquagranny911

    Some parks here have no ranger patrol on weekends. As you described, go to the ranger station if you need help and hope someone will be there if your cell phone won’t get a signal. That’s part of the reason my son and “biker dude” made a pact to camp together, mutual protection. Things can get out of control without adequate supervision. It would be a real shame that families can’t enjoy our wilderness areas in safety.

    If you want to see something really sick, go to WSY and see how a Rep was abused and threatened for voting against federal funding for Nascar events.

    The times, they do try my soul, Norbrook.

    • Weekends are the times when it’s the busiest, so that’s when the rangers would be most needed. Weekdays were the ones where being a park ranger was one of the more boring jobs you could have. It was the weekends (particularly the holiday ones) where you earned your pay.

  3. Dorothy Rissman

    Oh Norbrook, your tale left me feeling so sad. I will never understand how these decisions are made. Our parks are one of our greatest treasures. You do not have to be rich to take advantage of them.

    thanks for sharing your story. dr

  4. Chris Andersen

    I work in computers. It takes a lot work to keep the computers at work running. It is the responsibility of the System Administrators to keep them working. When they are doing their job, you don’t notice that there are problems that need to be fixed. In other words, it is when it looks like they are doing nothing that they are actually doing it right.

    Bean counters don’t understand this. All they see is a bunch of S.As sitting around chatting and playing games. So they fire them. And then the systems start breaking.

    • Aquagranny911

      Spot on, Chris Anderson! Great example of just what Norbrook was talking about in his diary.

    • I’ve been an S.A., and you’re right – if you’re doing your job, no one notices because they don’t see any problems or breakdowns. 🙄 One funny story from my days back then – two of the software packages used on the systems I was in charge of had a bad habit of leaving temp files behind them, and if you didn’t keep an eye on it, they’d fill up your server disks and bring things to a crawl, if not a complete halt. I’d set up a very simple batch job which ran once a month and cleaned everything up. I’d documented it, and made sure the guy who replaced me knew about it. Then he left about 3 months after I did, and his replacement apparently had removed the batch timer from the servers, which about 3 months later, brought everything to a screeching halt. 🙄 Easiest money I ever made, fixing it for them. 😆

  5. majii

    You are so right, Norbrook. In September 2009, North Georgia was hit with a 500 year flood that caused a lot of devastation. This region of the state is a haven for tea partiers who are fully supporting these cuts the republicans are making. They never learn. When the flood hit, all thoughts of bashing the government left their minds, and they were calling for FEMA and President Obama to respond to them immediately. They’re about to get another lesson in being careful what they wish for.

    I looked at the NOAA map for the southern U.S., and droughts will be a problem again this year. Much of Georgia’s economy depends upon agricultural products. It will be interesting when the farmers, Governor Deal (R,) and the republican majority state legislature appeal to D.C. for assistance and are told that the money just isn’t there. It will also be interesting to see how the citizens who voted these politicians into office deal with the increase in the prices of food items. The most likely scenario will be to blame President Obama for their ills. It has worked the past 2+ years in helping them maintain their cognitive dissonance between the politicians they elect, the way they think about taxes, how they are rooting for these budget cuts, and the ability of the government to provide assistance when they need it. The residents of North Georgia who were affected by the flood need to thank President Obama and the democratic majority at the time, for having the foresight to properly fund FEMA, but they won’t. They’re too busy bashing them, and it consumes the majority of their time.

    • A lot of the posturing is because they don’t think in terms of what they get in terms of services and help, but of what other people get. There was a nice bit over at The Mudflats about the Essential Air Service funding. Lots of Republicans want to do away with it entirely, as a “waste of money,” and McCain introduced an amendment to do just that. Which means that Alaska would lose a lot of their air services, which is what most of the state needs to survive. It’s easy to say “oh, we don’t need that program” when you can easily drive to an airport hub. It isn’t when the nearest hub is 1200 miles away by sea.

  6. Aquagranny911

    Thanks for sharing that tidbit about McCain. Disgusting, but not surprising in the least. That toad has always had “his” and he cares less and less about anyone else as the years go by. IMHO, he is an embarrassment to our State, this country and to the uniform he once wore. I despise him.

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  8. Nathan Katungi

    If my wish could some how come true you would be my choice for representing us on MSM television instead of people like Arianna Huffingon, Jane Hamsher and Cenk Unger. It is really a shame that many people in this country never get a chance to listen to people like you who are firmly grounded in reality.
    As I read your post today it reinforced my puzzlement about what is currently happening in our country. Why are so many Americans forgetful of recent events that clearly debunk the Republican pre-occupation with demonizing everything that the government does while praising everything done by private business?

    Have most Americans forgotten, so quickly, what loomed as an impending financial collapse, only two years ago, that necessitated the intervention of government? Do Americans really believe that if the government had allowed the giant banks, and the auto industry, to collapse America would be that much better off? Have the American people really forgotten the debacles of the unregulated businesses that gave us the likes Enron, and others, that practically destroyed people’s lives? Have the American people completely forgotten the debacle of the Savings and Loans Banks of the 1980’s, during the reign of the “Great Ronald Reagan,” that bilked innocent people of millions of dollars and , once again, necessitated government bail outs to the tune of about a half a trillion dollars of tax payers money?

    I’ve been through so many idiotic Republican economic policies that just didn’t measure up to reality. For example: Saint Reagan, with his supply side gurus, ended up mushrooming the federal budget deficit. Here in California, Gov. Pete Wilson’s privatization of utilities gave us Enron and the rolling blackouts. Tragically, because of our short attention span, It was Gov. Gray Davis, the Democrat, who replaced Wilson, who payed the price for the idiotic policies engineered by Republicans.
    And then we have the idiotic policies of G.W. Bush. Bush inherited a budget surplus from President Clinton. Instead of pursuing policies that built on Clinton’s fiscal responsibility, Bush chose irresponsibility: massive tax cuts for the wealth and waging two costly wars; especially the unnecessary one in Iraq. Guess who aided and abated Bush? The Republican Congress, and honestly with support of many in the Democratic party. But it is important to stress that the vast majority of Democrats opposed tax giveaways for the super rich. By the time Bush left office, the country was on the brink of financial collapse and in the depth of the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
    Under President Obama, the financial collapse was averted, and the economic growth has been slow but steady. Enter the Republicans in Congress who now propose to take the country back to the Reagan/Bush policies.
    Do Americans really understand who will pay the ultimate price if what appears to be steady and meaningful economic growth is cut short by irresponsible cuts in government spending. The ideologues, who by the way seem to be aided and abated by those who pose as progressives, may, in the end, deny President Obama a second term. If that happens the winners will be: Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, the entire Fox News group, the Teabaggers, Jane Hamsher and her Firedoglake clique as well others who claim to be the base of the Democratic party but hate Obama. But do you know who will be the real looser if we go back to the Reagan/Bush economic policies? It will be the vast majority of the American people, particularly the poor and the middle class.

    • Sadly, most Americans aren’t terribly interested in politics, and don’t have a long memory. The past few decades have been very much geared around instant gratification, so a lot of the backlash was more “you didn’t solve it yet?” attitude. I think there’s a real disconnection that they have between what they get and what they pay. It doesn’t matter in real life that their federal taxes are at one of the lowest points ever as a whole. They still think it’s “too much.” They’ve been told that the deficit is a “crisis,” but fail to see that the only way out is not just spending cuts – which they think won’t affect them – but also tax increases. A lot of the impact is going to hit home when something they’ve taken for granted suddenly disappears. It might be a national park they visit closes, it may be a subsidy they depend on, it might be a service they use regularly, or it might be a disaster happens. Whatever it is, the moment they don’t have it, it’ll sink in. Which is why we need to point out that it wasn’t the Democrats who took it away from them, it was the Republicans.

  9. fleetadmiralj

    I’m kind of witnessing budget cuts having real effects in person here in Virginia. I am very close to a lot of Virginia Cooperative Extension people (so close, than I can walk about 50 feet down the hall and say hi to a lot of them). VCE has taken a 15% cut in funding the past couple of years because, god forbid, we can’t ever raise taxes on anyone.

    As a result, VCE is trying to find ways to offer the same services but with the reduced budget, and they came up with a restructuring plan, where the abbreviated version was that they consolidated 106 county offices into about 22 centers that would service 4 to 5 counties each from a central location. However, a couple weeks ago they had to completely ditch it because a lot of people who depend on extension – farmers, local governments, etc. – were irate about the reorganization and complained about the reduction or elimination of local, county-based offices and agents.

    I fully understand their concern, but here is the problem – there is no way that the organization can keep offering services like they have been with the budget they’ve been given. And unless people can convince the General Assembly to restore funding, services are going to be cut or otherwise reorganized one way or another.

    It also hasn’t helped that VCE has been without a permanent director for nearing 2 years now, either. 2 years of hiring freezes has also virtually crippled VCE administration as well.

    • It’s a variation on the death of a thousand cuts. I’ve seen similar things around here, and yes, people notice it. I know a couple of people who used to work for the state almost year-round. They’d work the campgrounds from mid-April until the mid-November, then hire on as a plow operator with the state road crews. They found other jobs, because you can’t do that anymore. The state DOT doesn’t “hire up” in the winter, they just make do with who they have – so the roads don’t get plowed as frequently as they used to. The campgrounds now don’t get started until the first week of May, and are done by mid-October. One of the state maintenance shops in the area used to have a pretty sizable staff. Two full-time mechanics, a mason, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and so on. Everyone you’d need to keep equipment and facilities running in top shape. These days, there’s about a third of the staff there used to be, and no one’s sure they’re going to remain in operation at all. Yes, it shows.

  10. The moral of this story is that it all boils down to political partisanship and money. It is the common vote getting line of most conservatives to reduce government spending and shrink the size of government no matter how. This line sounds reasonable and feeds on the fears of many people who are struggling financially to get by. When push comes to shove and cuts are to be made most programs are protected from significant budget reductions because of absolute necessity or individual politicians protecting pork barrel programs in their voting districts. In the present budgetary debate going in in Congress only 16% of the Federal budget is subject to reductions. This includes agencies such as the National Park Service and NOAA who produces the map mentioned above.
    Unfortunately parks are always one of the areas most susceptible to having budgets frozen or cut on the state and Federal level. They do not have the vocal constituency to stand up for them when the ax must fall.
    The blog post above relates a story I saw repeated many times during my more than 32 years as a National Park Ranger. No one wants a ranger around unless there is a problem. This was as true of visitors as it was of some park managers. Unfortunately once positions are cut they very rarely appear again and it is not long before there are problems as described in this blog, along with vandalism, and a change in the attitude and type of visitors you will start to see.
    If you want to see parks better provided for and protected, it is necessary to let your political representatives know how you feel. Many state and National Parks have Friends and non-profit support groups that you can participate in. The National Parks and Conservation Association is one group that has a voice on the big stage. Membership is such groups will also show support toward our park systems.

    • Love your blog, BTW. 😀 One of the great things that happened last year in NY was when the governor decided to close a number of state parks. The public uproar was like nothing any of the politicians had ever seen. The problem was that while funds were found, it just paid to operate the parks, not address the other issues. I know the national parks have the same problem – maintenance funding. The personnel cuts have been seen by various beancounter types as “non-essential.” I remember the park I worked at was large enough that 4 of us could mostly cover it effectively, and keep it fairly under control. With one or two? Fat chance. If you’re patrolling one end of the park, you’re three miles away from the other end, and by the time you worked your way back there, things are likely to be going much worse than not.