Should the National Park Service Be Privatized?

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-Privatization of the National Parks Service would be considered a break from tradition, though a number of national parks have already incorporated private operations within the parks themselves without detriment to the traditional sense of the government’s management and protection of the parks.

In spite of reservations about the federal government and its operations, Americans have been pretty much convinced that the maintenance and protection of the National Parks should be under the jurisdiction of the federal government.  A national poll conducted by both Republican and Democratic polling firms indicated that citizens agreed that protection of the parks is a proper role of government.

The Parks Service considers citizen visitors investors in the heritage and natural resources of the national parks, which have been made available to generations of visitors as well as park residents and employees.  These inherent benefits have given visitors and others a stake in the National Parks Service and the handling of the tasks that keep the parks up and running on a regular basis. Federal employees are responsible for the protection of the various habitats, historical significance, scenic landscapes, and the experiences of park visitors.

As of now, there are companies that partner with the National Parks Service in a private capacity. One company, Glacier Park, Inc., manages a number of lodging accommodations in the area around Glacier National Park and maintains a shuttle service. Google has even gotten into the game with a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with the National Parks Service.  The Denali National Park and Preserve is another example of a park that has utilized a private system, Alaska Denali Travel, to run the park lodge and bus system.  It works with both the park and the National Parks Service. There are other examples of privatization in the National Parks with gift shops, hotels, restaurants, and convenience type stores.

In order to meet the needs of the Parks Service, essential services through private companies may be required on an ongoing basis simply to keep up with the millions of dollars needed for simple maintenance and operation of the systems within the national parks. With limited federal budget allocations to the National Parks Service, federal employees should be utilized in capacities other than janitors, gatehouse keepers and other more menial type positions, particularly when private companies can do the same jobs for a lot less and just as efficiently.

The government simply has to determine how to manage a particular park and if privatization can save costs and create jobs for private employees and lessen the burden on and costs of federal employees, then privatization is part of the answer.   Federal employees do not have the capacity to complete every job in a national park, or they are overpaid to perform them.  The use of private companies should be incorporated into each park and adapted and utilized in selected areas where the parks are desperate to maintain, upgrade and protect facilities and property.  Service to the public can be more easily performed through the privatization of everyday type procedures within the parks such as food/restaurant operations, maintenance/cleaning, housing/lodging and gift/retail shops.

Many National Park visitors may be unaware of the public private partnerships that integrate with one another to perform services throughout the national parks, but it appears that the private factor has not adversely affected the public. Costs have been kept down with privatization, but there are conflicts with the salaries that are paid out to individuals working under private companies as they are barely above minimum wage as opposed to the high salaries of public employees, but the use of workers through private companies has benefited the national parks.  The advantages of privatization and seasonal workforces include:

  • more efficiency and less expense (federal employees are paid year round at much higher rates than seasonal park employees),
  • parks are less susceptible to government budget conflicts,
  • revenue is generated through visitors rather than taxpayers,
  • NPS still has control of private organizations and the possible proliferation of brands,
  • private company use allows for lower park fees, services, and other amenities.

As far as the National Parks being privatized, the practice should not entirely dominate the National Parks Service, but it certainly can be and has been a valuable tool to counter financial burdens that the government has been saddled with concerning the Parks Service.

The shifting of some of the expenses of maintaining, protecting and preserving the National Parks is a relief for park administrators trying to sustain the traditional view of the Parks Service.  Preserving the National Parks will always be the number one goal of the Parks and if privatization can be of aid in that capacity, then it is worthy of continued consideration in varying capacities throughout the National Parks Service.

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS), the government agency created to preserve, protect, and administer those lands that have been designated as national lands for a variety of reasons, mostly scenic, ecological, or historical. During the past 100 years, the number of parks has increased, and their scope has expanded to include parks or historic sites that preserve significant pieces of minority history as well, such as Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and the African American Civil War Memorial.

Unfortunately, the NPS has suffered from serious underfunding in recent decades. The number of park rangers has steadily been reduced even as the attendance at national parks has increased as well as the number of parks. More crimes and more serious crimes are being committed on park lands, which increases the need for better security and monitoring. Maintenance of buildings and grounds has been delayed or ignored due to budget cuts.

Congress seems unwilling to authorize enough funds to meet the increased needs of the NPS. Even a small but significant action like raising entrance or campground fees is seen as elitist since fewer poor people can afford to visit the parks.

Perhaps the time has come to privatize NPS management. Turn over daily operations to a company authorized by Congress to do what is needed to bring the park system up to a minimal standard of excellence that Americans can be proud of again. This is not to say we should remove the treasured natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite from government control completely. The mandate should be that all natural areas retain their absolute pristine character. No industry, mines, garish tourist attractions, or concentrated populations of people will be allowed, and proper maintenance and improvements will be made in timely fashion.

This new management company should be incentivized to make a profit for its owners, shareholders, and employees. But at the same time, it should carry out the NPS mission to preserve “unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”

 

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