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Highlights

Two types of nonprofit organizations, cooperating associations and friends groups, provide substantial support to the national parks. GAO was asked to report on (1) the number of park units supported by nonprofits and the amount of their contributions, (2) the revenue-generating activities of nonprofits and how they compete with park concessioners, (3) factors that contribute to competition between nonprofits and for-profit concessioners, and (4) how park managers are held accountable for meeting goals for nonprofit financial support.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Interior In order to (1) minimize conflicts among the Park Service, cooperating associations, and concessioners, (2) better ensure that decisions about providing commercial sales and services are made more consistently and that logical criteria are followed, (3) provide a predictable commercial environment in the parks, and (4) enhance public accountability for its decisions, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to revise its policy regarding Commercial Services Plans so that all parks offering visitor sales and services are required to develop these plans.
Closed - Implemented
The National Park Service (NPS) has implemented this recommendation. In May 2005, it issued a memo to park superintendents committing the agency to having a commercial service plan in all applicable parks. A primary objective of the plans is to provide a comprehensive analysis of all commercial operations in a park and the relationships between them, specifically concessions, cooperating associations, and friend groups. The plans also are to establish necessary and appropriate criteria; ensure that resource and visitor experience goals are achieved; ensure compliance with other plans; and determine economic feasibility of all commercial proposals. NPS also revised its management policies accordingly in 2006.
Department of the Interior In order to (1) minimize conflicts among the Park Service, cooperating associations, and concessioners, (2) better ensure that decisions about providing commercial sales and services are made more consistently and that logical criteria are followed, (3) provide a predictable commercial environment in the parks, and (4) enhance public accountability for its decisions, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to ensure that Commercial Services Plans include (1) an explanation of the roles and responsibilities of both concessioners and cooperating associations in providing visitor sales and services in a park unit and (2) rationale for decisions that specify associations or other nonprofits will provide new visitor sales or services and that do not afford concessioners and other local, for-profit businesses an opportunity to compete.
Closed - Implemented
The National Park Service has implemented this recommendation. In May 2005, it issued a memo to park superintendents reminding them of NPS policy to conduct commercial services planning to support their commercial services program and committing the agency to having a commercial service plan in all applicable parks. In addition, NPS revised its management policies to require that a park commercial services startegy be in place to ensure that concession facilities are necessary and appropriate, financially viable, and addressed in an approved management plan.
Department of the Interior To establish meaningful contribution goals and to improve the accountability of park managers in meeting agency goals, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to develop and maintain an accurate and up-to-date list of friends groups on a park-by-park basis.
Closed - Implemented
Since our report was issued, NPS has developed a friends group directory on the NPS Partnerships web page. The directory is updated annually by NPS's Washington Partnerships Office and can provide information on a park-by-park basis.
Department of the Interior To establish meaningful contribution goals and to improve the accountability of park managers in meeting agency goals, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to require cooperating associations and friends groups to report key financial information on a park-by-park basis.
Closed - Implemented
The National Park Service has completed action on this recommendation. The agency designed a new reporting form to collect key financial information from nonprofit organizations, such as cooperating associations and friends groups, making contributions to national park units. The form is based on information that nonprofit organizations report to the Internal Revenue Service. As a result, the agency is annually collecting and reporting key financial information from friends groups on a park-by-park basis and in the aggregate for cooperating associations. While cooperating associations report only aggregate information for all parks served, individual associations and park units are to maintain such information on a park-by-park basis.

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