Entrance Fee Shenanigans
Government, by its nature and definition, is a bureaucracy. It's an "administration characterized by excessive red tape and routine," as Dictonary.com defines it.
Sadly, the upper echelons of the National Park Service at times certainly seem to take pride in this.
As I noted the other day, I've been trying since early January to obtain the agency's schedule for phasing in higher entrance fees across the park system through FY09. I've been shuffled around to various staffers, endured long breaks in communication, received a promise that I'd get what I was looking for the coming Monday, and then was forwarded a document for this summer's increases, but not those planned for 2008 and 2009.
Twice last week I left phone messages with Jane Moore, the Washington, D.C., fee manager who previously had promised to get me this data. I never heard back.
Well, fortunately, Scott over at Wild Wilderness managed to get the information, but only after filing a Freedom of Information request.
Why does it take an FOIA request to obtain a breakdown of proposed fee increases? Does this information equate with state secrets? Is it "need to know" information that the public doesn't need to know? Here's a link to the document. See for yourself whether it's a state secret.
I appreciate the fact that many areas of the Park Service are woefully understaffed, that the agency is trying to do more with fewer resources, both human and financial. But the document I had sought was in existence, it required no additional research to put together, it easily could have been attached to an email and shipped my way in an instant nearly three months ago.
Perhaps I'm way off the mark and there really is a rationale explanation why my request was overlooked/ignored because it lacked an accompanying FOIA application.
It seems to me that the Park Service does itself a disservice by going to such extents to keep the public in the dark, particularly in this incident. Instead of simply releasing the fee schedule all in one fell swoop, we see drips and drabs of proposed entrance fee hikes seep out around the country as individual park units make their announcements. The result is a slow crescendo of increase announcements that, in this age of rapid news dissemination from coast to coast, actually heightens the attention being paid to what the Park Service is trying to do.
Unfortunately, another, and greater, result is a general skepticism, even cynicism, of the agency's actions. And that is truly unfortunate, because far and away I like to believe that the far-flung Park Service staff is highly dedicated to its mission of preserving slices of America's natural, historical and cultural resources and allowing the public to enjoy those resources.
But when you have such foot-dragging over a document as simple and innocuous as a fee schedule, you can only wonder what games are being played with much more complex issues, such as the National Park Centennial Initiative and the Yellowstone snowmobile issue.