The Carter Administration's proposed "anti-inflation" budget will mean a cutback in many National Park Service programs in the Washington area during the next fiscal year, including the elimination of 85 Park Service jobs and postponement of $6.5 million in restoration projects. In addition, the agency's 24-hour helicopter ambulance service may become a 16-hour-a-day operation when a $250,000, one-year grant from Congress runs out this summer.
Two U.S. Park Police helicopters provide the only regular, 24-hour airborne medical evacuation service in the District and Northern Virginia, and they frequently fly into Maryland. The reduced service means that no Park Police helicopters will fly from 2 to 10 a.m.
Dr. Howard R. Champion, director of the shock-trauma program at Washington Hospital Center, said that 2 to 3 a.m. is a peak period of "med-evac" activity and that the 2 to 10 a.m. service "has a tremendous impact for what is really only a small amount of money."
Champion said the Hospital Center will open a shock-trauma unit with a helipad a few yards from the operating rooms this spring. "That will mean an accident victim on the beltway will be only four or five minutes from an operating room that can perform any kind of surgery to save someone's life."
D.C. Police have four helicopters, but they are two-person ships, unusable as air ambulances. Maryland State Police helicopters, which can transport accident victims, are on duty 24 hours a day.
Meanwhile, funds to maintain some of the most heavily used parkland in the area, including the Mall, have been increased by $730,000. The budget proposal earmarks $5.5 million for construction projects approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget, including $2 million to repair the C&O Canal, $438,000 to repair Wolf Trap's Filene Center and $318,000 to construct a new visitors' center at the Frederick Douglass home in Anacostia. Also proposed for the Park Service budget is $500,000 to draw up plans for road improvements to the George Washington Memorial Parkway and $33,000 to study the feasibility of cutting a larger window in the top of the Washington Monument to assist handicapped visitors.
One major cutback would be the elimination of all federal funds for performing arts in the park theater at Wolf Trap, Ford's Theater, Carter Barron and for the Sylvan Theater's Shakespeare Summer Festival. Congress will determine the extent of the cutbacks this spring. The Kennedy Center, also on federal parkland, is not affected by the cuts because it has not been receiving government money to support its programs.
While interpretive programs for visitors in Washington parks are expected to be among the items trimmed first from the Park Service operating budget next year, the most significant cuts would be in its construction program.
The OMB allocation of $5.5 million would cut the capital improvement program for next year by more than 50 percent. Among the cutbacks are $1.5 million for restoration at Harper's Ferry, $2.3 million for C&O Canal restoration, $455,000 at Fort Washington and $100,000 to study traffic problems on the George Washington Memorial Parkway between Spout Run and Roosevelt Bridge.
Under OMB, few federal programs escaped the scalpel. Even the president may feel that cutting edge, thanks to an OMB recommendation to trim a $1.1 million rewiring project at the White House to $655,000. The 30-year-old wiring, installed during the Truman Administration, is being overloaded by heavy demands of television and electronic equipment not used in the 1940s.
The total operating budget for the Park Service will increase slightly to about $70 million next year, but virtually all of the $4.3 million increase is due to built-in salary increases for most of the staff, said Park spokesman Hal Miller.