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PLA Responds to Office of Inspector General Report on National Park Service Use of Donations

By Public Lands Alliance Staff posted 03-14-2019 21:12


SILVER SPRING – The Office of the Inspector General at the Department of the Interior conducted an evaluation to determine whether the National Park Service accepted and used donations from philanthropic partners in compliance with policies, regulations, and laws.

The OIG issued its report today. Dan Puskar, executive director of the Public Lands Alliance, released the following statement in response:

“America’s national parks benefit enormously from a network of nonprofit partners dedicated to furthering the mission of the National Park Service (NPS) and enhancing the experiences of park visitors. These organizations continue a legacy of private citizens coming together to enrich and support our nation’s preeminent natural, cultural, and historic places.

“The NPS and its nonprofit partners have worked collaboratively to improve the guidance and protocols for using donated funds in light of the 2016 revision to Director’s Order 21: Donations and Philanthropic Partnerships. The NPS diligently codified new ethical guidance in 2018, making clear the expectations and responsibilities that law and policy place on its employees.

“The Public Lands Alliance (PLA) believes that the Office of Inspector General's (OIG) evaluation should help refine these ongoing improvements in donation policy and partnerships. Nonprofit organizations have long sought detailed reporting from the NPS about its use of donated funds, and PLA is confident that this report will spur increased transparency and accountability. PLA supports the steps made by the NPS to respond to the OIG’s concerns. These measures will only increase the confidence of donors in our incredible public-private partnerships.

“PLA has the greatest respect for the OIG and their conscientious inspectors. Unfortunately, the report appears to conflate a valuable conclusion - that the NPS should improve its oversight, tracking, and policies regarding the use of donated funds - with an unfounded allegation of a systemic “misuse” of funds. Instances of selective facts and incomplete explanations in the report do not justify such a bald conclusion.

“Additionally, the report does not clearly distinguish in its tables and charts the appropriate use of donated funds for some food, beverages, and gifts. Volunteer appreciation events where food and beverages are provided are in keeping with a nonprofit park partner’s mission. Sympathy flowers for an NPS employee who experiences a family tragedy are not an inappropriate gift. With the help of improved ethics guidance, PLA is confident that nonprofit partners and the NPS can collaboratively improve how they approve and document these appropriate uses.

“PLA applauds the OIG for insisting that the NPS must ensure all donations are used in compliance with policies, regulations, and laws. PLA has no doubt that the NPS has the will and capacity to do so, and that their nonprofit partners will support them through this continued evolution.”