Washington, DC — The National Park Service wants to start pursuing donations from both corporations and park visitors, under a proposed rule change that could take effect this fall. The plan would transform the Park Service’s current passive posture of merely accepting donations to actively asking vendors and other interests for money, according to an analysis of the proposed rule change released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The 74-page plan details new methods whereby park employees may “engage in solicitations of outside sources.” While “direct personal solicitation of park visitors” would not be allowed “unless specifically authorized,” park officials could distribute “donor envelopes” in “informational materials” to visitors.
“We already pay twice for national parks, once with our taxes and again with the steadily rising visitor fees charged at the entrance gate, but now our national parks are angling for a third shot at the public’s wallet,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the proposal expressly forbids employees from portraying “Congress, the Department or their bureau as having failed to meet their responsibilities” when asking for contributions. “What other federal agency begs for spare change?”
The proposed rule change, which is open to public comment until December 1, would also repeal the prohibition on seeking or accepting gifts from park concessionaires, permit-holders and other private entities with which the park does business or regulates. In its place, the Park Service proposes non-specific criteria, such as the donation “would not likely result in public controversy.”
“Removing the bright line prohibitions and replacing them with slippery, ‘don’t get caught’ kind of standards forces park managers to wade into ethical swamps with no flashlight,” Ruch added. “It is inherently troublesome for any federal agency to seek funds from businesses seeking concessions from it.”
To encourage large donations, the proposal substantially liberalizes rules on what is called “donor recognition.” If adopted, for the first time a corporate donor could –
- Feature its park-related gift or “partnership” in paid media advertising;
- Display its logo on “the electronic screen and associated printed information” of computerized visitor kiosks; and
- Get permanent in-park “tablets, plaques or other commemorative installation” to celebrate the gift.
While the “naming of features or park facilities will not be used to recognize monetary contributions,” the “naming of rooms in a park facility is allowed,” as well as “boards or walls” within visitor centers.
“This is a thinly disguised scheme to subject the public commons to corporate branding campaigns,” added Ruch, pointing to related effort by both the Bush administration and House Republicans to sell naming rights of certain park facilities, as well as some parks in their entirety. “Will anyplace be off-limits to the Nike swoosh or the McDonald’s arches?”