The Bush administration is studying a variety of National Park Service job categories to determine which jobs can be performed more efficiently by the private sector and which should continue to be carried out by the government.
And although no one in the RV industry has yet issued an opinion on this new privatization initative, the administration’s controversial “competitive sourcing” initiative has drawn fierce opposition from environmental groups as well as current and former National Park Service (NSP) employees.
“Outsourcing is an appropriate tool when appropriately used,” National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) President Thomas C. Kiernan wrote in a letter to the Senate in September. “But that’s not what the administration is doing.”
The administration, he contends, has actually broadened the definition of “commercial” functions to the extent that outsourcing may now include “archeologists, biologists, museum curators, masons, and other workers who serve park visitors, educate school groups, and protect the parks for future generations.”
Not everyone, however, sees this as a cause for alarm.
“What we have to do,” said Homer Staves, a Billings, Mont., private campground industry consultant, “is get the rangers back to being interpretive people and not spending their time replacing toilets or repairing sewage systems. Every national park everywhere in the country is hurting for capital. But the private sector can come in and put in the kind of facilities that customers would want and, at the same time, pay a licensing or rental fee to the park to generate more funds for infrastructure.”
The NPS, of course, had already successfully outsourced many of its hotel, restaurant and related facilities to concessionaires over the years. But some business operators say they would like to see further private sector involvement in the national parks.
“We believe there should be an opportunity for those companies that have expertise to consider some of those public domains,” said Jim Rogers, president and CEO of Kampgrounds of America, Inc. (KOA). “In the long run,” he added, “the public will be better served by people who have the know-how.”
Staves also noted that consumers’ expectations are changing. Although there always will be demand for rustic campgrounds, he said, RVers are increasingly seeking parks with more upscale campground amenities. “When the public wants 50-amp hookups, paved roads and deluxe sites,” he said, “then that should be provided by the private sector using private capital.”
National Park Service Director Fran Mainella has defended the outsourcing studies in a recent guest editorial posted by FederalTimes.com. “Some media reports,” she wrote, “have mischaracterized our efforts as targeting a broad sweep of federal jobs for outsourcing. Instead, we are studying a subset of this work (15% for 2003 and 25% by the end of 2004) for competitive review to make sure we are best structured to fulfill our mission to the American public.”
Mainella added that the federal government has already determined that it provided the best value in more than half of the 1,700 full-time equivalent positions studied through June 2003.
Congress, meanwhile, is sending mixed signals on the competitive sourcing issue. While the House voted to freeze federal spending on outsourcing studies this past summer, the Senate narrowly defeated an amendment by Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev) in late September that would have blocked new outsourcing studies. Opponents and proponents of competitive sourcing are likely to continue their debates through 2004, both inside and outside the halls of Congress.