The Department of the Interior is diverting millions of dollars of national park funds, a decision that may violate federal law.
Washington, D.C. — Today, Democracy Forward and the National Parks Conservation Association urged that the Office of Inspector General of the Department of the Interior open an immediate investigation into Secretary David Bernhardt’s potentially unlawful decision to divert $2.5 million of national park funds for President Trump’s ticketed July Fourth spectacle. This squandering of park funds—derived from visitor fees—is a gross breach of public trust and runs counter to the Secretary’s duty to maintain America’s national parks for the enjoyment of future generations. It also potentially violates a federal law that allows these visitor fees to be used only for specific purposes related to enhancing visitor experiences, including by reducing an $11.9 billion deferred maintenance backlog in our national parks.
“Siphoning off desperately needed money from our national parks to pay for a spectacle on our National Mall is both reckless and a breach of the public’s trust,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for National Parks Conservation Association. “Taking money from national park visitor fees could also be illegal, and we urge the Inspector General to investigate this matter. Two and a half million dollars might not seem like a lot to this administration, but to a national park it’s everything. Fee dollars are meant to protect our parks irreplaceable resources and enhance visitors’ experiences, not fund a Presidential stunt.”
“The law says national park fees should be used for national parks. But the Interior Department is reportedly diverting those funds to finance Trump’s desire for tanks on the Mall. So, we’re demanding an investigation,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy.
The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) only allows collected user fees to be dedicated toward six enumerated purposes, all of which are oriented toward enhancing visitor experiences, addressing maintenance needs, and providing for public safety. Accordingly, the law would not permit the funds to be used to pay for displays of military hardware including deployment of tanks on the National Mall, flyovers by an array of jets (including Air Force One), and the extended pyrotechnics show President Trump has demanded as part of his takeover of this year’s Fourth of July festivities.
Accordingly, Democracy Forward and the National Parks Conservation Association are urging an investigation into the following:
- Whether the use of national park visitor fees to fund the President’s Fourth of July celebration violates FLREA and the Antideficiency Act.
- The process by which it was decided to divert FLREA funds for the President’s programming, including but not limited to whether the diversion was ordered by the White House, and whether the Department consulted with the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel or career officials at the National Park Service or the Interior Department’s Office of the Solicitor, and whether any dissenting views by career officials or others were overruled or ignored.
- Whether Department officials assessed the harm that will be inflicted on national parks, including specific national park projects, from the diversion of funds.
- An accounting of the total funds diverted from FLREA accounts to the President’s programming.
- An accounting of projects to which diverted entry fee funds were committed prior to the diversion.
The letter was sent to the Inspector General July 3, 2019.
About National Parks Conservation Association: For 100 years, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than 1.3 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org/100.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.
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