October 30, 1997 in Nation/World

Outhouse Cost No Drop In Bucket House Panel Decries $330,000 Park Service Project, Expensive Housing

Stephen Barr Washington Post
 

Forget those legendary tales of the Pentagon spending $600 for hammers and ash trays. Congress Wednesday found a new symbol of wasted taxpayer dollars: the two-hole outhouse that the National Park Service built for more than $330,000.

Wednesday, members of a House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees Park Service spending also heard the Interior Department inspector general and General Accounting Office experts criticize the Park Service for building high-cost homes for employees at the Grand Canyon and Yosemite national parks.

Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, decried such “gold-plated construction” by the agency. “The average American cannot comprehend government housing of $600,000 or toilets in excess of $300,000,” he said.

Democrats were equally tough. Rep. David E. Skaggs, D-Colo., called the costly projects a “disheartening breach of trust.” Rep. James P. Moran Jr., D-Va., said the Park Service seems “more intent in winning design awards than saving the taxpayers money.”

Much of the congressional outrage was directed at what Regula called the “Taj Mahal of restrooms.” The outhouse, 90 miles north of Philadelphia in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, features a slate, gabled roof, cottage-style porches and a cobblestone foundation that can withstand an earthquake. The baseboards are covered with $78-a-gallon paint and the wildflower seed planted around the foundation cost $720 a pound. There’s no running water, just two composting toilets.

“You simply cannot and should not attempt to justify 12 Park Service designers, architects and engineers spending two years designing a custom toilet,” Regula said.

Wednesday’s testimony did not explain why the Park Service sought money for the Delaware park in 1993 or who signed off on the outhouse.

As for the employee housing projects, Interior Department Inspector General Wilma A. Lewis and General Accounting Office Associate Director Barry T. Hill said that once taxpayer dollars arrive at the parks, the superintendents have considerable leeway in deciding how the money gets spent.

Lewis said the Park Service spent, on average, $390,000 at the Grand Canyon and $584,000 at Yosemite to construct a house, about twice the average cost of private housing in the areas. On such projects, Lewis said, auditors found the “general sense” at the Park Service was that “cost is not a factor” in design and construction decisions.

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