USS Arizona Memorial Mired in Dispirited Mess
Shoddy Conditions and Manager Absenteeism Compound Illegal Ticket Diversion
Washington, DC — Employees portray the USS Arizona Memorial as a leaderless, rundown and deeply demoralized institution controlled by commercial tour companies, according to two internal reports posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Released over the objections of the National Park Service (NPS), the reports charge that top park managers knew or were complicit in tour companies siphoning off most tickets which are by law supposed to be available free to the public.
The USS Arizona Memorial is Hawaii’s most visited tourist site. Nearly 1.8 million people a year visit the park in order to see the sunken battleship in Pearl Harbor holding remains of nearly 1,000 sailors who perished on December 7, 1941. Earlier this year, PEER unearthed an internal report finding that most all of the free first-come, first served Memorial passes were snapped up by commercial tour operators before visitors can obtain them. In response to the release of the report, the Park agreed to make 300 “next day” tickets (less than 10% of the Memorial’s 4,350 per day capacity) “available to visitors daily.”
Two more newly uncovered reports indicate these problems go much deeper. One is a September 25, 2013 NPS law enforcement “Briefing Statement” describing tour company representatives given stacks of tickets and concluding “The NPS is aware of what is happening.” It ends with the statement “We are requesting consultation and investigatory assistance due to the sensitive nature of the case.”
The other is a summary of interviews with 38 Memorial employees and others by NPS Regional Equal Opportunity Manager Maxie Hamilton. It quotes employees as saying that “Ticketing is a big problem here” with “tour companies grabbing all” desirable tickets. It also records widely held concerns about –
- Poor Maintenance. “The monument is not being cleaned as it should.” There is no maintenance budget or plan. The “grounds were an embarrassment.” The USS Arizona bell was encrusted with bird droppings and cleaned only due to a visit by the Secretary of Interior. The report includes photographs of deteriorating or poorly maintained areas in the Park;
- Chronic Absenteeism. “Employees almost universally reported that the Superintendent is never on site at the visitor center or even the Park.” And “the biggest problem employees reported is they cannot reach” Superintendent Paul DePrey. Indeed, even the NPS “Regional Office reports having received numerous calls from the Park looking for him”; and
- Cripplingly Low Morale. Employees reported morale as “very low” in “an adversarial atmosphere” compounded by a widespread “fear of reprisal.” Unsurprisingly, “employees are not optimistic that things will improve.”
“These reports show that the USS Arizona Memorial is adrift and has lost its sense of mission,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who obtained redacted versions of the reports under orders from Interior’s Office of Solicitor which upheld his appeal of the NPS decision to deny their release under the Freedom of Information Act. “No wonder the Park Service resisted letting these reports see the light of day. They describe a deeply dysfunctional organization suffering a leadership deficit.”
Following all three reports, NPS did not conduct an investigation into any individual’s role in the systemic ticket diversion or verify accounts of officials receiving gifts and other amenities from tour companies. Nor did NPS remove DePrey or change any of the park’s management personnel. The agency earlier released an undated “Corrective Action Plan” but it is not clear what, if any, changes in park maintenance, employee relations or ticket distribution have actually occurred.
“It appears the Memorial is long overdue for a good literal as well as figurative housecleaning,” added Ruch, noting that it took whistleblower disclosures to bring these conditions to the surface. “Despite an appalling ticket scam at one of the most hallowed places in America, it remains business as usual in the Park Service.”