National Park Foundation:

Better Communication of Roles and Responsibilities Is Needed to Strengthen Partnership with the National Park Service

GAO-04-541: Published: May 17, 2004. Publicly Released: May 25, 2004.

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In 1967, the Congress created the National Park Foundation (Foundation)--a nonprofit organization with the sole purpose of providing private support to the National Park Service (Park Service). However, some Park Service officials have raised concerns that the Foundation's support is not meeting parks' priority needs. In this context, congressional requesters asked GAO to review the activities of the Foundation by determining the (1) Foundation's roles and responsibilities for raising funds to support the Park Service, (2) amount and kinds of donations the Foundation has raised between fiscal years 1999 and 2003, and (3) extent to which the contributions obtained by the Foundation assisted the Park Service in addressing park priorities.

In accordance with its legislative charter, the Foundation raises private donations from a variety of sources and has broad discretion in how it distributes these donations to support the Park Service. In general, the Foundation's policy is to support systemwide projects that serve the Park Service and are not otherwise federally funded, such as supporting temporary transportation advisors to help alleviate congestion at national parks. Overall, annual private donations to the Foundation have more than doubled--from $18 million in fiscal year 1999 to $41 million in fiscal year 2003. Much of this increase has stemmed from the Foundation's concerted effort to target corporate donations, which accounted for the bulk of the donations received. Most of the corporate donations are noncash or "inkind," such as providing expertise to renovate the red bus fleet in Glacier National Park or providing electric vehicles to parks in California. Corporate donors typically specify how their donations are to be used. For example, one corporation donated funds to renovate a national monument in the District of Columbia. The Foundation, in consultation with the Park Service, decided to use these funds to renovate the Washington Monument. Because the majority of the Foundation's donations are restricted by the donors for a specific use, there are limited funds available to respond to some parks' requests, such as for fund-raising assistance or support for local nonprofit groups. Consequently, some park officials question the usefulness of Foundation donations and believe support should be directed at park priorities. In an effort to raise more discretionary funds and possibly better support individual park needs, the Foundation is expanding its fund-raising approach to attract more donations from individuals. The Foundation's efforts to assist the Park Service are hampered by poor communication and documentation problems. First, unlike most other partner relationships with the Park Service, the Foundation and the Park Service do not have a comprehensive written agreement that clearly describes the Foundation's fund-raising strategy and clarifies the roles and responsibilities of each partner. Second, the Foundation and the Park Service sometimes enter into verbal rather than written fund-raising agreements, thereby making it more difficult to determine the responsibilities of each party and whether commitments were met. Third, Foundation and Park Service officials disagree about the fund-raising strategy as well as the objectives for one of the Foundation's key fundraising programs. Both parties have taken initial steps to address these and other communication problems.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To reduce the confusion and misunderstanding and improve communication between the National Park Foundation and the Park Service, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to work collaboratively with the Foundation to develop an overall written agreement that, among other things, articulates the Foundation's fundraising strategy and clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the Foundation and the Park Service in their partnering relationship.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: National Park Service (NPS) signed an overall written agreement in February 2005 that sets forth the National Park Foundation's fundraising strategy and clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the Foundation and NPS in their partnering relationship.

    Recommendation: To reduce the confusion and misunderstanding and improve communication between the National Park Foundation and the Park Service, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to identify and document all current and future fund-raising agreements made with the Foundation, specifying the terms of work agreed to by each party.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: National Park Service (NPS) has developed and signed a written agreement with the National Park Foundation, which specifies that the fundraising agreements will be established pursuant to NPS Director's Order 21. The Foundation has entered into one fundraising agreement since our report concerning the Junior Ranger Program. This agreement, which was signed in June 2004, specifies the terms of work. It also has been entered into NPS agreements database.

    Recommendation: To reduce the confusion and misunderstanding and improve communication between the National Park Foundation and the Park Service, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to provide a list of individual park project priorities, including those potentially fundable by nonprofits, and communicate them to the Foundation for consideration in fund-raising.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: National Park Service National Leadership Council approved, in April 2004, five programmatic priorities used by the National Park Foundation to raise funds. These priorities were jointly developed in a collaborative process between NPS and the Foundation. These priorities were included in the overall written agreement between NPS and the Foundation signed in February 2005, which will greatly enhance communication of the NPS fundraising priorities.

    Recommendation: To reduce the confusion and misunderstanding and improve communication between the National Park Foundation and the Park Service, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to develop and implement internal controls such that fund-raising agreements are documented in writing and subsequent performance is tracked against the agreement.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NPS has a database for the Partnership Construction Process, which is a project tracking system used by the Denver Center to track all construction projects, systemwide. Information on new partnership construction projects (project description, memo of intent,fundraising plan, feasibility study, Development Advisory Board approvals, design specifications, etc.) are forwarded by the Washington Office to technicians in NPS' Denver Service Center. Currently, there are approximately 25 construction projects in the Partnership Construction Process database. These projects are initially tracked by approval milestones, and once construction begins, by construction milestones. NPS has worked with the database technicians to develop fundraising milestones for non-construction fundraising agreements. Frequently, these milestones are identified in the fundraising agreement or the associated fundraising plan. Having these agreements in the database will provide NPS with information needed to track project goals and milestones.

    Recommendation: To reduce the confusion and misunderstanding and improve communication between the National Park Foundation and the Park Service, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to clarify whether the exclusivity terms in Foundation agreements with Proud Partners apply to park-based cause-related marketing arrangements and communicate this information to all of the Park Service's fund-raising partners.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Park Service (NPS)revised Director's Order 21, effective May 1, 2006, that clarifies and defines the exclusivity terms associated with the Proud Partner's program and included this language in the overall corporate campaign agreement between the Park Service and the Foundation. In addition, between October 2005 and April 2006, the Park Service communicated its proposed language revisions to its regions, its Partnership Council and Advisory Board, and numerous friends groups, including the Foundation. Furthermore, the Park Service has developed training opportunities for program managers, supervisors, and others responsible for fundraising activities, which includes providing its friends group partners opportunities to review the training via satellite broadcasting.

    Recommendation: To improve its communication with the Park Service and improve management controls, the National Park Foundation should enter into an overall written agreement with the Park Service that includes its fund-raising strategy and clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the Foundation and the Park Service in their partnering relationship.

    Agency Affected: National Park Foundation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Park Foundation entered into an overall written agreement with the National Park Service, signed on February 28, 2005, which discussed the Foundation's fundraising strategy and clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the Foundation and NPS.

    Recommendation: To improve its communication with the Park Service and improve management controls, the National Park Foundation should identify and document all current and future fund-raising agreements made with the Park Service, specifying the terms of work agreed to by each party.

    Agency Affected: National Park Foundation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: National Park Foundation (NPF) has developed and signed a written agreement with the National Park Service, which specifies that the fundraising agreements will be established pursuant to NPS Director's Order 21. The Foundation has entered into one fundraising agreement since our report concerning the Junior Ranger Program. This agreement, which was signed in June 2004, specifies the terms of work. It also has been entered into NPS agreements database.

    Recommendation: To improve its communication with the Park Service and improve management controls, the National Park Foundation should develop a process, either through training or briefings, to help ensure complete and consistent understanding of its fund-raising strategy and roles and responsibilities with the Park Service headquarters, regional, and local park officials.

    Agency Affected: National Park Foundation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2004, the National Park Foundation, working with the leadership of the National Park Service (NPS), developed a strategic plan to guide its fundraising program. Subsequently, in February 2005, NPS signed an overall agreement that set forth the Foundation's fundraising strategy and clarified the roles and responsibilities of the Foundation and NPS in their partnership relationship.

    Recommendation: To improve its communication with the Park Service and improve management controls, the National Park Foundation should, in developing its fund-raising approach, consider the list of individual park priorities compiled and provided by the Park Service--this list could be used for identifying patterns of park needs for systemwide projects as well as for identifying specific needs that may be of interest to potential donors.

    Agency Affected: National Park Foundation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: National Park Service National Leadership Council approved, in April 2004, five programmatic priorities used by the National Park Foundation to raise funds. These priorities were jointly developed in a collaborative process between NPS and the Foundation. These priorities were included in the overall written agreement between NPS and the Foundation signed in February 2005, which will greatly enhance communication of the NPS fundraising priorities. Both NPS and the Foundation used the list of priorities when approached by Unilever as a potential donor. As a result, Unilever subsequently entered into a Proud Partner agreement with the Foundation. Furthermore, NPS and the Foundation have jointly developed a Request for Proposals Standard Operating Procedure to establish a clear process for parks to apply for grants and for grants to be awarded and tracked.

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