Sec. Zinke Ignored Expert Parks Advisory Board In Favor of New Committee Stacked with Financially-Conflicted Industry Representatives
Zinke’s “Made in America Committee” May Be Violating Federal Law and Won’t Disclose How Members Were Selected
Suit Filed Ahead of Committee’s First Public Meeting, Where Industry Reps Will Advocate for Privatizing Park Services, Potentially Raising Costs for Visitors
Washington, D.C. — Today, Democracy Forward filed suit against the Department of the Interior (DOI) for stonewalling the public release of records detailing how it selected the members of its industry-laden “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee. DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke created the Committee at the request of a recreation industry lobbyist, stacked it with members representing companies with a direct financial interest in privatizing America’s national parks, and ignored his own agency’s warnings that the Committee failed to safeguard its work from these conflicts.
Zinke established the Committee after he told a recreation industry conference that he aspired to contract out swaths of National Park System services to private corporations, leaving National Park Service employees to “cleanthe bathrooms.” Rendering advice about park operations would normally fall to the agency’s National Park System Advisory Board–an eighty-year old, congressionally created council with science-backed expertise in public park management–but the bulk of that Board resigned in protest last January after Zinke repeatedly refused to meet with them.
“Secretary Zinke is letting industry insiders tell the Park Service how to run our national parks and outsourcing policymaking to players with a financial stake in the outcome. This committee is Zinke’s latest attempt to advance his agenda of squeezing every drop of private profit out of public lands,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “Americans have a right to know how Zinke picked the industry insiders that have his ear.”
The Committee members, comprised almost entirely of advisers from industries and companies that stand to profit from the Trump Administration’s plan to privatize park services, include the CEO of Delaware North, which sued the government to trademark the name of Yosemite National Park, and Johnny Morris, billionaire founder of Bass Pro Shops and major donor to President Trump. Experts note that additional privatization of the National Parks could potentially raise the cost to those visiting America’s natural treasures and restrict access for ordinary citizens.
The cumulative effect of these conflicts of interest potentially violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires Secretary Zinke to prevent such conflicts.
The complaint was filed on July 16, 2018, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Read the full complaint here.
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.