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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Today's guest: Fran Mainella

Fran Mainella

July 3, 2003

Fran Mainella

Read the National Park Service Report
Good morning, I'm Fran Mainella, Director of the National Park Service. Yesterday morning, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Assistant Secretary Lynn Scarlett and I presented to President Bush a report which details the accomplishments of the National Park Service.

The report is entitled, "Partnering & Managing for Excellence." It gives a snapshot of the current state of the park system and outlines the steps the National Park Service will take over the next two years to improve and strenghten the management and stewardship of our parks.

Since President Bush came into office nearly $2.9 billion has been provided to reduce a $4.9 billion maintenance and repair backlog in the park system. With this funding, the National Park Service has undertaken 60 fire suppression and safety projects, 140 general building rehabilitation projects, 186 upgrades and repair to water, wastewater, and sewer facilities, as well as many other projects. In addition, the Service has undertaken 500 maintenance and repair projects for fiscal year 2003. I look forward to talking to you, so let's begin.

Matt, from Quad Cities writes:
The repair budget at Mount Rainer was cut 40 percent -- and the funds are needed badly. Why were they cut?

Fran Mainella
The budget for maintenance and repairs has not been cut. There was some confusion regarding this, but be assured projects such as the bridge and others are going forward.

Nora, from Cleveland writes:
Has the President added any Parks or Monuments?

Fran Mainella
This Administration has emphasized from the beginning that its focus is on fixing up park infrastructure badly in need of repair and taking care of the cultural and natural treasures, which are already part of the National Park System.

The President has signed legislation to create the Flight 93 National Memorial, honoring those who died on the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside on September 11th. Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park in Virginia, a nationally significant Civil War landscape and antebellum plantation, was signed into existence by President Bush on December 19, 2002.

Rick, from Tacoma writes:
I read this in our paper last week: As part of the push for a leaner, more efficient federal work force, Mount Rainier plans to soon spend roughly 250,000 to study whether as many as 70 of the park's 112 federal employees could be replaced with contract workers. The 70 are among 1,708 Park Service positions scheduled to undergo privatization review by the end of fiscal year 2004.

How do you respond?

Fran Mainella
First, competitive sourcing does not equal privatization/outsourcing. The NPS Competitive Sourcing Initiative is focused on finding out how well the federal government -- in this case the National Park Service -- is serving the American people. There will always be challenges when managing an agency with 20,000 employees but the National Park Service, as a whole, has some of the most dedicated, committed employees in the federal workforce, and sees the competitive sourcing process as a vehicle for becoming the very best it can be.

Than, from Elwood, NJ writes:
We are going to Glacier in August. Should we worry about bears? We're going camping.

Fran Mainella
I, too, am going to Glacier, but in late July. I know you will love it. I hope you will see wildlife, however, I advise you to make the visitor center your first stop to get some tips on how to safely visit the park and see the wildlife. These are wild animals, and we want you to have a safe and enjoyable visit -- you can ensure a great trip by following the visitor center's guidelines.

Robert, from Houston writes:
It's well known that the Park Service manages, well, our national parks. But doesn't the Park Service also help to maintain the White House? What exactly is your role in the upkeep of our President's house? Many thanks!

Fran Mainella
Most people don't realize that historic buildings, like the White House, are park of the National Park System. In fact, there are 27,000 historic sites within our 388 units. The White House's official park name is President's Park. It includes all maintenance on the grounds of the White House, LaFayette Square and the Ellipse. We are proud of the work that the National Park Service employees and their partners and volunteers exhibit on behalf of all Americans, especially this time of year, the Fourth of July when many Americans travel to Washington, D.C. for family vacations.

Jill, from Mayo, Florida writes:
Hello Ms Mainella:

It is so good that you decide to take time out of your busy schedule to come and answer our questions. I sincerely appreciate your generousity immensely as I am very interested in the National Park System since the third grade. What degree do one might pursue if they wish to work in the National Park Service? Thank you for your time and consideration. With Kind Regards, Jill, 19 Pre-Medical Student

Fran Mainella
I wonder if we ever had a chance to meet, as I was State Park Director for Florida prior to my becoming National Park Service Director in July 2001.

We are always looking for folks to join with us to work as an employee or to volunteer. As a pre-med student, you may consider exploring seasonal opportunities to get a feel for what kinds of positions may be more interesting for you on a permanent basis. Your science background would match the Park Service's needs in several areas such as natural and cultural resource management.

Please visit our Web site at to learn more about the Park Service and employment opportunities that may be of interest for you.

Rikki, from Boston writes:
I am very concerned about theft of our national treasures at our Parks.

This was in the Boston Globe last month For example, For a little over two years, Bald win, a 49-year-old private investigator, has been monitoring a privately owned parcel of land bordering the Blue Mesa area of Petrified Forest National Park. This watchdog's job is to protect the land of his boss, Robert Worsley, from an array of thieves who are trampling archeological sites, digging up ancient Anasazi burial grounds to steal valuable pottery, and trucking off chunks of fossilized wood at an alarming rate.

Pot hunting is a growing problem throughout the southwest and especially common in the Painted Desert area of Arizona. Some archeologists tie the increase to high unemployment and a sagging economy. The bowling ball-size funeral pots were among the items buried with those who inhabited the area between AD 800 and 1200, and can fetch as much as 60,000 on the black market.

How can we better protect our Parks?

Fran Mainella
Protection of our visitors, employees and our resources are critical to us. And as you may be aware, we are further enhancing our focus on law enforcement. In fact, we have just created in the Washington office an associate for visitor and resource protection, and I will share with her your concerns, and I know she will follow up on it. Also, Secretary Norton has worked with the whole Department of the Interior to have us all partner together to better protect resources even beyond national parks.

Steven, from Montclair,NJ writes:
How many national parks are there, and are they being adequately cared for and funded?

Fran Mainella
There are 388 units of the national park system, and I hope you can get out and enjoy them. A report we just released yesterday, called Partnering & Managing for Excellence (, can give you further information. In summary, under the leadership of the President, the National Parks Service is broadening opportunities for Americans to enjoy their parks. We are restoring old facilities, improving landscape health, and inspiring volunteers to participate in their care. I encourage everyone to read this report and learn about the many successes we have had and are having in the National Park Service.

James, from South Carolina writes:
Good Morning. In this post 911 world, what has been done to make sure our National Parks do not become havens for groups that mean to harm the United States or places for groups to hide out?

Fran Mainella
Our national parks are public landscapes that heal our spirit and give us solace. These special places, which are uniquely American, also afford us an opportunity to reflect on our history, heritage and culture. Since September 11th, we have worked hard to keep the welcome mat out for our visitors, working around the clock to ensure their safety and that they will have memorable experiences whenever they visit our sites. With every July 4th celebration, the safety and security of our visitors are our top priority. As in past years, we are working collaboratively with federal, state and local officials and law enforcement personnel to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all our visitors who will be participating in activities this weekend. I hope you'll join us.

Kim, from Western Kentucky writes:
Hi Fran, I was curious as to how the Park Service balances high use of many of the National Parks with impact upon the environment trail maintenance at the Grand Canyon must be very difficult! Also, what is a favorite park of the President?

Fran Mainella
We always want to make sure that we take care of all of our resources while at the same time allow for environmentally friendly access to our parks. Trails have been a great asset to us, because they connect people together -- many of our trails go from a national park to a state park, we call that a seamless network of trails In fact, we just kicked off the inauguration of the East Coast Greenway with our partners and designated 26 new national recreation trails. The East Coast Greenway runs from Florida to Maine -- better get your hiking shoes ready! We work with partners and volunteers to maintain the trails, and if you would like to find out more about volunteer opportunities, please visit our Web site. Please get out and hike! Visiting and enjoying your parks will make for a Healthier U.S. -- one of the President's initiatives, designed to improve the mental well-being and physical health of American citizens.

Helen, from Fort Worth writes:
The National Parks Conservation Association did not give you all high marks recently for stewardship of the Park System. How do you reconcile this -- especially because the administration is stating that they are doing great work with stewardship of the Parks?

Fran Mainella
We welcome evaluations. However, if you look at the report we released yesterday, Partnering & Managing for Excellence, gave us an opportunity to provide the American public with the most up-to-date facts and figures, which speak for themselves. So often we in the parks do not tout our accomplishments, but this report proves that by our staff going about its daily work, we have improved our national park system. In maintaining our parks, we have committed $2.9 billion toward reducing the $4.9 billion maintenance backlog, as defined by the GAO report in 1999. In addition, we've emphasized volunteerism, partnerships, safety, visitor services and, of course, resource protection through science and cooperation.

Greg, from Indiana writes:
What is your favorite national park? How many have you been to?

Fran Mainella
I love all 388 parks! I have had the pleasure to have been able to visit, as National Park Service Director, 125 of them. And my life list, would probably add another 50. I think I have the best job in the Federal government overseeing such wonderful resources, employees, partners, volunteers and visitors. Please come out and join us this summer in our national parks. You'll have a great time and achieve what Secretary Norton has stressed: the unity, hope and healing that comes from visiting our national parks.

LarryandDelores, from Sacramento Ca writes:
Im Proud of the president and my wife and I would like to tell him a Early -Happy Birthday! Mr president Its July 6th

Fran Mainella
I join with you in wishing President Bush a wonderful birthday and say to him, "Thank you for all you do for this Nation." P.S. And don't worry, I'll keep the surprise party a secret, too!

Fran Mainella
I've enjoyed talking with you about the accomplishments and work the National Park Service has been involved with and will continue to undertake. I encourage everyone who didn't have their questions answered to go to for more information. Thank you and Happy Fourth of July!

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