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UPDATED| OIG Says National Park Service Doing Poor Job Monitoring Donated Funds

North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, Kurt Repanshek

An investigation has found that the National Park Service does a poor job of tracking financial donations to the parks/Kurt Repanshek file photo

Editor's note: This updates with comment from the National Park Service.

Each year, tens of millions of dollars are donated to the National Park Service, but the agency is doing a poor job of monitoring those donations or controlling how they're spent, according to an evaluation by the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General.

Monitoring of giving is so bad, wrote Bryan Brazil, the OIG's supervisory auditor for the Western Region, that "the NPS cannot determine the total amount of support received from its philanthropic partners."

And while the National Park Service Reference Manual specifies that the agency keep annual reports from its philanthropic partners that include the partners' 990 form and a narrative describing the fundraising, the Park Service's Washington headquarters "has not been collecting these reports and has not compiled data from these reports since 2011. In addition, we found the IRS I-990 forms are not useful for oversight purposes as they do not clearly identify funds or other contributions provided to parks by their philanthropic partners," wrote Mr. Brazil.

The OIG compiled the report, sent to the Park Service in mid-January, in an effort to determine whether the agency had proper controls and tracking in place to monitor philanthropic giving. As part of the evaluation, OIG staff visited 31 parks.

National Park Service officials said late Thursday that the OIG report provided the agency was not finalized.

"This is not a report nor are the findings listed in the document considered final," said Chief Spokeperson Jeremy Barnum in an email. "This is a preliminary notice of potential findings and recommendations as part of the Office of the Inspector General's ongoing evaluation of NPS philanthropic partners. As noted in the document, the OIG is still conducting evaluation work and has requested NPS input, comments, and additional information before preparing a draft report. We are currently preparing to do so."

The report was sent to Regginald Chapple, the Park Service's division chief in the Office of Partnerships on January 18, with a request that any comments or additional information be provided to OIG by February 9.

At the park level, OIG learned, friends groups give donations to superintendents in various manners. Some simply write a check out to the superintendent, while one park was given VISA gift cards, the OIG said.

"Since NPS has no policy or guidance on superintendent funds and these funds are dispensed to the superintendent and often managed by his or her assistant, there is a lack of internal controls which increases the risk for fraud, waste, and abuse," Mr. Brazil wrote.

Back at the Washington headquarters, OIG found the agency did not have an up-to-date list of active park friends groups. Not only did the existing list leave off some active organizations, but it also included some that have closed, his report noted.

"Additionally, most of the parks visited that had book stores operated by cooperating associations did not have, or did not regularly update, scope of sale statements required by policy," wrote Mr. Brazil. "We also found that NPS regional coordinators for cooperating associations and friends groups conduct very limited oversight, typically only providing support to parks when partner agreements are renewed."

The investigators also came across what appeared to be unauthorized use of donated funds.

"Nearly all the parks visited used philanthropic partner donations for entertainment purchases, such as food and beverages for employee-only and employee and volunteer events. Some parks used donated funds to purchase small gifts for employees, floral arrangements for families of employees, and a gift for a courier," he pointed out. "These expenditures were made without any written justification for how these costs were necessary to accomplish the NPS’ mission.

"Officials at multiple parks reported that they used donated funds for these expenses because they could not use appropriated funds, but Reference Manual #32 states that the NPS has a responsibility to treat donated funds as it does appropriated funds. Furthermore, there is a long history of Comptroller General decisions that conclude that the NPS does not have blanket authority to spend donated funds any way it wishes, and specifically disallow expenditures that are social and personal in nature."

Going forward, the OIG suggested that the Park Service:

1. Develop and implement NPS policy or guidance that prohibit park superintendents from receiving donations in the form of checks in their name, cash, and gift cards.

2. Track and report the monetary support parks receive from philanthropic partners.

3. Develop and maintain an accurate friends group directory.

4. Ensure park superintendents and cooperating associations that operate book stores develop scope of sale documents and update them at least annually.

5. Prohibit the use of donated funds for gifts to individuals.

6. Update NPS policy and implement guidance regarding the use of donated funds for allowable food and beverage purchases.

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Makes you wonder (and cringe) how many other Government agencies are so lacking in controls and oversight

The OIG had to visit 31 parks to find this stuff out????

i hope the NPS can respond assertively so that employee recognition and volunteer recognition events can continue to use non appropriated funds.  In my 3 decades with the NPS the cooperating association would often team up with a friends group, the park leadership team and the union, if the park had one, to sponsor an annual or biannual employee and volunteer salute.  We can't use appropriated dollars for these things at all unless some sort of service recognition is given (there is some loophole).  If the food donation remains under the ethics limit is it a big problem - and if the non-profit partner uses their operating funds and not their donation funds does it matter? Parks aren't using their donation boxes to do these types of things. Cooperating associations or friends groups aren't required at all to donate money to NPS units.  

The 990 is good enough for the IRS but not DOI or the NPS?

As far as the annual scope of sales policy. Doing this annually is a waste of time - it should be more like a 3-5 year requirement.  The scope doesn't change that much every year.  The NPS needs to trust the Cooperating Asspciations a bit more - particularly with product approval.  The amount of wasted time I have seen by Chiefs of Interpretation or park rangers in the product approval process is unbelievable.   We aren't retail experts so why do we make our cooperating association partners wait and wait for our approval And make them order product that has no market.  It happens all the time. I hope the NPS doesnt  go overboard and make things even harder for the cooperating associations.  They are some of our best partners and have stuck with us for many many years. 

But the NPS IS doing a good job tracking Centennial Challenge funds which is a much bigger donation.

Here are the findings by the same IG but since it was positive it didn't receive the same coverage.

Mather Forever, it didn't receive any coverage because it wasn't released or provided to us. But it raises another question: Why did the Park Service score so highly on tracking the Challenge Funds, but seems to be doing so poorly tracking the friends groups' donations?

Perhaps the tracking of the Challenge Funds was so accurate because donations needed to be verified before matching funds could be released?

As required, NPS released Federal funds only after the non-Federal contribution had been deposited.

We have asked the Park Service to provide us with Mr. Chapple's response to the OIG in the latest matter, and hopefully that will provide some insight into that question. It could be that the OIG didn't do a good job looking into the donations, and if that's the case, it raises a question of why not?


That could be the reason. Thanks for the update!

These practices predate the Trump era and go back to good ole John Jarvis and his cabal of self serving NPS managers. People foolishly hand over money for "do good" friends groups unaware of how those funds are actually spent. If you look at the personnel rosters of several groups, they are highly bloated with positions such as videographers and the like. And bookstore sales are a well guarded little cash secret.

The use of Cooperating Association funds to support employee and volunteer recognition goes way back into the 1980's if not before.  It is and was a common practice.  Perhaps the monitoring of the funds needs to be updated but my experience with the NPS is that 99% of the time there is no ill intent on using funds in this way.  I hope the NPS response will not be to stop the practice as there are so many restrictions on other sources of funds and employee and volunteer recognitions are very important.

Groups like the Public Lands Alliance do a great job of communicating and coordinating among the many non-profit groups who support public lands at all levels..  They actually have a decent directory of groups that is very useful.  Not sure why the lack of a Friends Directory is a big deal to the OIG. Most of the Feinds groups are connected to the parks they serve via their website or they are on twitter etc. and you can find out who they are - the conept of an NPS maintained directory seems very 1980's..   Besides..just "GOOGLE IT"


There have been a few comments attacking the integrity of the OIG reports.They would hold some credence if they weren't posted under "anonymous" or some other pseudonym, and provided something concrete to back up their contentions. Without substance and identifiable sources, we won't post them.

That's not to say we're endorsing the OIG reports. Indeed, the Park Service questions them. At the same time, critiques should carry some rational substance that constructively furthers the discussion.

If you don't think the Park Service should carefully track and account for donations, or you think it already does, explain why or show how.

If you don't think the Park Service should follow its own reference manual that lays out how philanthropic donations should be tracked, explain why.

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