A loosely run system for distributing free tour tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial that had "ample opportunities for abuse" is being addressed by National Park Service personnel to ensure walk-up visitors aren't locked out of the tours.
The extent of the problem surfaced earlier this year when it was determined that the park had been distributing most free, first-come, first-served tour tickets to commercial tour operations before walk-up visitors could obtain them. In late January, a Park Service review of the ticketing practices found few controls were used in the distribution system.
In their review, the Park Service staff found that while there typically were between 1,475 and 1,925 tickets set aside for walk-up visitors, the actual number of tickets available for those visitors is "much less," as "(A) portion of first-come, first-served tickets are set aside each day for a VIP list for important visitors, commercial operators, educational visitors, the park's association, and are therefore not available for visitors who walk up..."
On Wednesday a Park Service spokesman said the outcome of the review was the identification of "specific steps to be taken to address all the issues identified in the review."
Part of the ticket distribution problem, said Craig Dalby, chief spokesman for the Park Service's Pacific West Region, was that the park erred in "the pairing of tickets with the audio tour rental offered by the park's cooperating association." That practice has been corrected, he said via email.
"Subsequent to the review, the park has provided additional tour times in the morning when demand for tickets is at its peak. In July the park began to offer a limited number of reservable next day tickets; these are for individuals only, not for commercial tour operators, and have proven tremendously popular," Mr. Dalby added.
"A number of meetings took place with commercial operators to discuss the issues and potential solutions, and since then the park has issued Commercial Services Notices to tour operators clarifying park policies related to ticketing and commercial operations. The park is currently updating the language in the permits issued to commercial operators to better reflect park policies related to ticketing and standards for conduct within the park. Those new permit terms will go into effect over the next few months. Approximately half of all tickets to the USS Arizona issued each day are currently available on a walk-up, first-come first-served basis."
The USS Arizona Memorial is Hawaii’s most-visited site, drawing nearly 1.8 million people per year, according to the Park Service. The USS Arizona’s maximum capacity is 4,350 per day, with visitors ferried to the sunken battleship in Pearl Harbor that holds the remains of nearly 1,000 sailors who perished in the December 7, 1941 attack.
While allegations of staff misconduct were investigated, Mr. Dalby said Privacy Act considerations prevent the agency from discussing the outcome of those investigations.
At Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which brought the Park Service review to light, Executive Director Jeff Ruch said the agency needs to reveal what actions it took against employees found guilty of misconduct.
“It is simply astonishing that the Park Service did not follow up on the acts of misconduct described in this report,” said Mr. Ruch, pointing out that the Park Service identified no record of any disciplinary action but instead appears to be treating the situation as a breakdown in “internal communications” with team-building exercises, and making employees view a 30 minute “ethic video with a ‘site specific’ skit (i.e. ethical dilemmas most commonly experienced here).”
“Inside the Park Service, accountability appears to be in much scarcer supply than free passes," he added. The PEER official also said the Park Service continues to withhold an undated law enforcement “briefing statement… because it contains speculative opinions and allegations about job performance, behavior and/or activities of both NPS employees and individuals outside the NPS."
The agency also refuses to release “an administrative inquiry to assess the work environment at the park," the watchdog group maintained, adding that it has filed a formal administrative appeal seeking both documents.