Housing Complex

Mall Advocates Ask Feds to Investigate the Park Service

Well, it's been nearly a month since bids closed for the National Park Service's new interim tour contract for the Mall and related Monuments. Companies only had a week-long window to send in their offers, and the Park Service hasn't answered a query about how many of them there are, or when they'll choose the winner.

In the mean time, though, the National Coalition to Save Our Mall—whose counsel, Joe West, reviewed reams of documents to make the determination that Tourmobile's contract had been wielded and extended unlawfully—is highly disturbed by the Park Service's proposed next steps. On November 22, they sent a letter to the Department of the Interior's Inspector General taking issue with the request for qualifications and asking that she scrutinize the Park Service's conduct. It reads, in pertinent part:

It is fast becoming readily apparent that the biggest impediment to solving the transportation and circulation problem on the National Mall is none other than the Park Service. Perhaps this should not come as a surprise given that, after all, this is the same Park Service that improperly and illegally supported a single concessionaire's exclusive rights to provide transportation services on the Mall for over two decades...the events of the past two weeks, viewed in the context of the past two decades, at the very least raises the specter of a self-interested Park Service that does not act in the best interest of the public.

The report West refers to is a 2008 investigation into the "culture of expedience" around the Department of the Interior's sole-source contracting. That same culture seems evident in how the Park Service deals with its concession for the vast majority of services in its other parks, which is held in an omnibus contract with Fairfax, Virginia-based Guest Services International. The contract, which went into effect on January 1, 1986, covers the Jefferson Memorial gift shop, the Washington Monument lodge, the Constitution Gardens food facility, the Pershing Square ice rink and food kiosk, an office building cafeteria, waterfront activities along the George Washington memorial parkway, Columbia Island docks, the tidal basin boathouse, horse stables in Rock Creek Park, the east Potomac park tennis courts....the list goes on. It also includes preferential treatment for additional services not already included.

The contract expired on December 31, 2010. It was extended for another year, and according to Park Service spokesman Bill Line, there is another extension pending GSI's signature for calendar year 2012. But I haven't been able to find the opportunity advertised on the federal government's contract procurement site, and Line hasn't provided anything that would indicate the contract has been put out to bid. Even if it were, given the tremendous inertia embodied in 25 years of continuous management, I doubt GSI has any reason to worry that it won't just continue indefinitely.

I'm planning to write more about this at some point. If you know stuff, get in touch.

  • Dan Gamber

    The whole Guest Services thing is a fraud. Pershing Square has been closed for some time, while across the street there is a booming (and fairly expensive) sidewalk cafe. The Constitution Gardens facility has never been up to the quality of a mediocre half smoke cart. I am sure there are dozens of vendors who would love the Constitution Gardens site.

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