While Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is pointing out that the private sector does a better job of operating campgrounds than a federal agency such as the National Park Service, the Forest Service is quietly removing its private campground operators so that it can run those operations. Secretary Zinke has gone so far as to invite private entities to play a larger role in managing NPS campsites because that could help relieve a significant burden on the agency which is already struggling with a maintenance backlog it cannot afford and shrinking federal funds. “As the secretary, I don’t want to be in the business of running campgrounds. My folks will never be as good as you are,” the Secretary has stated.
Meanwhile, in stark contrast, the Forest Service, which is led by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, is removing private companies from the operation of its campgrounds so that it can take over those operations itself. These efforts remove private jobs and increase the demand for more federal agency staff. While the Forest Service initially asserted that it would continue to pay appropriate taxes to the local authorities, it later admitted that does not have to pay such taxes and in fact will not be paying them. The agency also insisted that its plan to replace private jobs with workers who were volunteers would strengthen economic development, but did not explain how that would result. The initial efforts by the Forest Service to take over these privately operated sites was the result of a research paper prepared by a former Forest Service Supervisor who concluded that offering opportunities to the private sector did not protect the public’s interest and that the agency could actually do the work more efficiently. However, no detailed analyses were conducted to support the commonly rejected view that the federal government can perform these types of management tasks more efficiently than the private sector.
Secretary Perdue has not yet directly commented on the Forest Service’s efforts, nor explained why that agency’s views differ from the conclusions reached by Secretary Zinke.