USS Arizona scandal shrugged off, group says
HONOLULU (MCT) - A national public employees watchdog group is accusing the National Park Service of sweeping under the rug a ticketing scandal at the USS Arizona Memorial.
For about seven months in 2013, the Park Service and its nonprofit fundraising arm, Pacific Historic Parks, diverted a portion of what were supposed to be free tickets at the door for tours of the memorial, and instead sold them with an audio tour for $6 apiece to tour companies, according to a Park Service investigation.
The late January review found the park had no policies or standards for ticketing operations, providing "ample opportunity for abuse."
A "bazaar-like" atmosphere existed with commercial tour operators working inside the visitor center to pick up, exchange, barter and purchase USS Arizona tickets.
Further investigation was recommended into allegations of gifts being accepted from commercial tour operators.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said Tuesday that it is "simply astonishing" that the Park Service hasn't followed up on the misconduct described in the report.
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit requested the Park Service's investigative reports through the Freedom of Information Act.
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch noted that the Park Service has not identified any disciplinary action that was taken and instead "appears to be treating the situation as a breakdown in internal communications with team-building exercises."
An Arizona Memorial employee said no staffing changes have been made.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser first reported on the ticket controversy in May.
Craig Dalby, a spokesman for the Park Service's Pacific West Region office in San Francisco, said the Park Service "absolutely did follow up on" the problems described in the USS Arizona ticketing operation review.
A corrective action plan prescribed specific steps to be taken, he said.
"Also, whenever NPS employees are found to have engaged in misconduct, we take appropriate action," Dalby said. "The specifics of personnel reviews, including any disciplinary actions, are protected by the Privacy Act and therefore, are not disclosed."
But the Park Service review Dalby referred to goes to great pains to make clear that it was not intended "to investigate individual conduct." It does recommend further investigation to assess allegations of misconduct.
Park employees have described a follow-up ethics probe that may be ongoing.
Dalby, however, said there are three sets of documents related to the ticketing review at the USS Arizona.
The first is the review noted above. The second is a "briefing statement" prepared by law enforcement staff at the park that contains "opinions and allegations about job performance," and is exempt from public records release, Dalby said.
The third is an "administrative inquiry" to assess the work environment at the park, also exempt from public release, he said.
Park employees also said a past study focused on low morale at the Arizona Memorial. A 2012 National Park Service "viewpoint survey" showed only 9 percent of Arizona Memorial employees believed that managers promoted
Communication among different work units, compared with 46 percent for the Park Service as a whole.
Only 27 percent agreed that leaders at the Arizona Memorial maintained a high degree of honesty and integrity, compared with 52 percent for the entire Park Service.
Each day a total of 4,350 tickets are available for the Arizona Memorial tour through an online reservation system, tour companies and at the door.
But in 2013, more than 700 tickets a day were sometimes pulled from the walk-up batch and sold to commercial operators with a $6 audio tour, the Park Service investigation found.
The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act prohibits the Park Service from charging a fee to visit the memorial.
"Requiring purchase of the narrated audio tour to secure a ticket to the memorial appears to be in violation of the spirit of the law," investigators concluded.
Paul DePrey, the Arizona Memorial's superintendent, said he stopped the ticket diversion in January when investigators told him it was improper.
Approximately half of all tickets to the USS Arizona issued daily are now available on a walk-up, first-come first-served basis, Dalby said.
DePrey also has come under fire for letting the new $56 million visitor center fall into a state of disrepair.
DePrey said Tuesday that "the park management team and I care deeply about this park. We are working diligently to ensure that park operations and staff morale are the best they can be."
"Since the review of our ticketing program in January, we've worked with our partners and the many businesses who bring visitors to Pearl Harbor in order to identify ways to improve our operations," he said.
Curtis Lee, a retired Army colonel who volunteered at the memorial for about seven years before leaving in late 2013, said "the morale was so bad. You just didn't dare say anything back if you were a paid employee."
In the January investigation, interviewees reported being told to "mind their own business" when it came to the ticketing operation.
"There's seemingly little or no supervision from the San Francisco office," Lee said. "He (DePrey) is just allowed to do whatever he damn pleases."
(c) 2014 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Distributed by MCT Information Services