Last year, when Congress did a 1-year renewal of legislation governing public recreation and fee policies (FLREA) they left out a tiny provision that discouraged government agencies from taking back tasks they had privatized. With that gone, parts of the USFS immediately began to move to bring certain operations back in house, even when doing so required that they both spend more tax money AND reduce services levels to the public. Such is the strength of incentives in any government bureaucracy to expand their scope, staffing, and budget, even when it makes no sense for the public.
This week in an article at PERC, I tell one such story in depth. Here is an excerpt:
Consider one example: The Tahoe National Forest in California recently took the operation of some of their parks out of private hands, ending a nearly 30-year partnership with one of our competitor companies.
Did the Forest Service do it to save money? The private concessionaire operated entirely with the user fees paid by visitors, using no taxpayer money, and even paid rent back to the government. The agency’s in-house operating plan for running these campgrounds requires at least $2 million in taxpayer money over the next five years to supplement user fees.
Did they do it to improve service? The private concessionaire employed more than 60 paid workers living on site, with managers who worked weekends and holidays. The Forest Service plan calls for half this number of paid employees, and none will live on site or work weekends—the busiest time for recreation.
Did they do it to address some egregious for-profit abuse? The agency is actually planning to replace dozens of paid private workers with volunteers. At the same time that the federal government is mandating higher minimum wages for campground concessionaires, the Forest Service is replacing paid workers with unpaid labor.
Did the Forest Service do it to keep user fees low? The original stated reason for kicking out the private operator was the concessionaire’s request to increase user fees in response to recent increases in California’s minimum wage. In the end, however, the Forest Service raised fees even higher than those proposed by the concessionaire.