It will be painful to watch the executive branch of government for the next 11 months. Domestically, the concept of responsible governance has clearly been abandoned. Let's take a look at the Mark Rey's last budget for the U.S. Forest Service. Remember, several years ago the president flew to Portland, Oregon, announced a "Healthy Forests" initiative, and staked his legacy on our ability to find ways to restore forest landscapes while protecting rural communities from fire. Most people understood that the protecting landscapes bit was cover for helping timber companies. But most people (including Democrats in Congress) thought they were dealing with what we called, during my years in a village in rural India, "honest graft." If Congress helped the president get his "Healthy Forests" bill, the timber industry might get some special breaks, but at least the money raised would be used to reduce the fire risk to rural folks.
Well, it didn't happen that way, and now even the pretense is gone. The last Bush Forest Service budget slashes funding by eight percent, which will mean huge layoffs -- more than ten percent of agency staff. Since preparing community protection fuel-reduction plans is a highly labor-intensive activity, this is bad news all around. Washington Congressman Norm Dicks calls the budget "an unmitigated disaster." The administration finally concedes that fighting fires costs more than previous budgets admitted, so those funds go up -- but instead of drawing the obvious conclusion, that we need to be spending more next year to prevent fires in following years, the plan would cut spending for fire prevention and preparedness -- an approach Dicks said ''would guarantee large, expensive wildfires again next year."
If you want to know how badly Bush and Rey have managed the National Forests, consider the fact that in their final year they will spend 48 percent of the total Forest Service budget fighting fires. Imagine if you ran your house so sloppily that you spent as much money putting out grease and waste basket fires as you did on your mortgage, or if your electrical system routinely shorted out and instead of hiring an electrician you simply bought more fire extinguishers!