Last month, President Donald Trump gave his first-quarter salary to the National Park Service (NPS) in the form of a ceremonial check worth $78,333. While the move was in keeping with Trump’s promise to donate his salary from the Oval Office, it became the center of widespread criticism.
The event, or spectacle, however you care to look at it, was dubbed hypocritical due to the fact the president had recently proposed a $1.5 billion funding cut to the Interior Department, which oversees the NPS.
“If Donald Trump is actually interested in helping our parks, he should stop trying to slash their budgets to historically low levels,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, in a statement following the donation. “This publicity stunt is a sad consolation prize as Trump tries to stifle America’s best idea.”
It has long been known that the NPS is lacking the funding needed to preserve the land, trails, facilities and battlefields within the nation’s parks, leading many to fall into disrepair. The National Park Service manages 80 million acres of land in 27 states plus two US territories. Today, the agency is around $229 million behind in deferred maintenance costs, according to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Looking at this figure alone, it becomes immediately apparent that Trump’s donation will do near to nothing to help the NPS maintain the country’s parks. In combination with the proposed budget cuts, the future of the nation’s parks is beginning to look bleak.
Following the donation, a number of requests were made for the release of financial records related to Trump’s donation through a Freedom of Information Act. NPS publicly released those documents on May 2 – including Treasury Department statements, appropriation suggestions, and email correspondences.
These documents have confirmed how meaningless Trump’s donation actually is. While $78,333 is a lot of money for a personal donation, the reality is the fund will not stretch far and will do nothing to counteract the cut in funding.
According to sources, Trump has specified that the donated money must only be received by historic battlefields. However, unfortunately, the donation will do little to help the NPS preserve these priceless monuments.
At Georgia and Tennessee’s Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, for example, an estimated $85,100 will be needed to clean, paint, and replace the cannon carriages. Meanwhile, the restoration of the monuments at Mississippi’s Vicksburg National Military Park, will cost the agency as much as $95,500.
Despite these numbers, released emails have revealed that Virginia Johnson, special assistant to the secretary, appeared to be desperate to make the donation work. “Can we identify a specific, discrete project that could be accomplished with this donation—and in the near future—at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park? Ideally an infrastructure project such as roads and/or trails,” Johnson wrote in an email to NPS staff.
The rehabilitation of 86 feet of trail, and the repair of “rustic architecture” at the Ochs Museum, both in Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, have been proposed as possible projects. A project has yet to be selected.
If the insignificance of the donation was not bad enough, it also appears the NPS was unable to locate the check. “The POTUS check today was mailed to NPS POB 7800 in Reston—can we confirm that’s out at AOC and the correct mailing address,” asked an employee in the NPS Office of the CFO.
Upon closer inspection, it was discovered that the ceremonial check used had an outdated address that belonged to an old accounting operations center from 17 years ago. “The President’s check may not have been mailed (the Secretary had it in hand during the press conference), but the screen shot of the check, which is on social media, gave that address, so I’m concerned that others may use that PO Box to send their own donations,” wrote the agency’s Assistant Director for Communications.
It later came to light that the check had been sent to the NPS Office of Budget Execution by Sheri Dillon, the Trump family’s tax lawyer. The check was deposited on April 14, 2017.
Image: Wikimedia Commons, Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0
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