Washington, DC — The National Park Service is planning an unprecedented and elaborate national effort to mark its 100th anniversary in 2016 but the agency claims it has no records describing its ambitious plans, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In public statements, NPS Director Jon Jarvis has predicted a “once-in-a-lifetime campaign” with Centennial events including appearances by well-known sports and Hollywood figures at iconic events such as the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Super Bowl halftime.
For the past six months, PEER has sought records detailing the NPS Centennial outreach plans and the sources of funding. After producing one Request-for-Proposal for a national advertising contract, NPS insisted that it had no other responsive documents, despite –
- Industry trade paper accounts that NPS selected the Grey Group to spearhead “a multiplatform communications initiative,” estimated to cost $6 million annually for the five years leading up to the Centennial;
- Creation of an NPS Centennial Office in February 2012, reporting to Jarvis, as well as an in-house task force to develop a second century “vision” strategy; and
- The existence of a 30-member NPS Centennial Advisory Committee, created in June 2011, which had multiple meetings and had arranged Jarvis to meet with advertising/marketing firms.
“The Park Service seems to be staging the grandest self-celebration in the history of the Republic but says it has committed virtually nothing about it to writing,” remarked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization today filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain withheld records.
The Park Service has been among the loudest agencies complaining about the effects of sequestration cuts causing visitor facilities to be closed while leaving hundreds of permanent and seasonal positions unfilled. Although much of the Centennial funds will apparently be raised through the National Park Foundation, the agency’s official fundraising arm, those funds could have been used to address an expanding park maintenance backlog rather than PR consultants and pricey media ad buys. Moreover, the National Park Foundation has an enormous overhead, spending far more on fundraising expenses and the care and feeding of corporate donors than it does on needed projects in the parks.
“We want to find out whether a continent-wide hootenanny will further or distract from our national parks’ mission,” Ruch added, noting that NPS has continued to spend on projects which only aggravate the effects of sequester shortfalls. “Promoting greater visitation to under-staffed parks does not make much sense.”
In contrast to NPS, the U.S. Department of Labor shelved elaborate celebrations for its centennial this year due to budget constraints.