Sarah Palin rarely goes anywhere without causing a ruckus, but the former Alaska governor's high-profile bus tour this week is bringing a slice of the political spotlight to the no-drama National Park Service.
As heavy media coverage of Palin's trip brought reports of multiple rangers by her side and private tours at historical East Coast landmarks, some liberals saw bitter irony in a self-described fiscal conservative appearing to receive special benefits at a time when NPS may face GOP-backed budget cuts.
"Natl Park Service strapped yet Palin receives VIP treatment," Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) tweeted yesterday. "Are US taxpayers being reimbursed for this?"
Even small-scale use of taxpayer funds by presidential short-listers tends to draw scrutiny -- prodded by foes, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) yesterday agreed to pay for personal trips on a state-owned helicopter, including one to his son's baseball game -- making Blumenauer's charge a potentially explosive one.
He and Palin tangled in 2009 over her debunked claim that the Democratic health care law would set up "death panels" for the elderly.
But according to NPS northeast regional spokesman Phil Sheridan, the service incurred little if any extra costs to accommodate the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee on her much-watched "One Nation" tour.
"It's the kind of stuff we can respond to and prepare for if it does happen," Sheridan said, noting that similar mobilization of resources occurs when famous actors or musicians stop by a national park.
"Really there would be no significant costs" above the norm, he added, "but I can't say that no park didn't bring somebody in at some point" to help with Palin-related needs.
The blog of the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress Action Fund joined Blumenauer yesterday in taking a dig at Palin's weeklong reliance on NPS -- which in some cases received just hours of notice before her arrival at historic, politically symbolic sites.
Wrote Think Progress blogger Alyssa Rosenberg, citing Palin's past anti-"bureaucrat" rhetoric: "If Palin wants to argue that visiting America's historic sites and learning about the country's past is something everyone ought to be doing ... she should acknowledge that federal employees and federal funding are often what keep those landmarks standing and their collections on display."
Land acquisition funding for NPS and other agencies saw a $149 million budget cut in the April deal enacted to avert a government shutdown, and one of the park service's key GOP supporters already has raised concerns about its lack of focus on reducing maintenance backlogs (E&E Daily, March 31). More fiscal hurt may well come during the 2012 budget cycle, although some Republican appropriators in the House said they are fighting to maintain the agency's operations budget in the run-up to its centennial anniversary in 2016.
Jane Ahearn, spokeswoman for the NPS Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island sites that Palin visited Wednesday, echoed Sheridan in stating that none of the resources brought to bear for the bus tour were out of the ordinary. The boat that Palin and her family took to Ellis Island was a "regularly scheduled park service boat," Ahearn said, adding that even though there was "no one on extra duty," NPS rangers "did try to get some folks in front of her because there were probably 50 to 60 reporters on the scene."
The East Coast bus trek, sponsored by Palin's political action committee, stopped in Boston and New Hampshire yesterday. She has remained mum about whether the venture represents the first stirrings of a run for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination but told ABC News this week that she planned to "take the tour west as the summer progresses."