National Parks Conservation Association: Public/Private Partnerships

By Sara Leslie, William Meehan III
2010 | Case No. SI117

This case describes a situation faced by the president of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Tom Kiernan. Kiernan must decide how to straddle its two roles as both an advocate for the National Park Service (NPS) and a service organization providing management assistance to the NPS. At the time of the case, the Department of Interior (DOI) was proposing to the National Park Service Management Policies (“Management Policies”), the operating guide for superintendents in managing each national park. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton was pushing for NPS to amend the Management Policies to make them friendlier to commercial activities. NPCA believed that these changes would be very detrimental to the parks and, in its role as protector of the parks, felt compelled to strongly and publicly protest the changes. In fact, NPCA had gone so far as to threaten legal action against DOI. Historically, NPCA had been an advocacy organization for the NPS but, in 1998 had begun to provide management consulting assistance. With the proposed changes to the Management Policies looming, NPCA’s executive staff struggled with the fundamental strategic decision of whether or not NPCA should provide both management consulting assistance and advocacy for NPS. Kiernan worried that it might be too complicated for NPCA to serve both roles. The head of the NPS, Steve Martin, was being pressured by Norton to accept the changes to the Management Policies. Martin needed NPCA to be supportive of these changes and had even gone so far as to make clear the tradeoff for NPCA: if NPCA wanted to stop NPS from amending the Management Policies, it would likely not be able to continue the management consulting assistance work. NPCA needed to decide whether it should continue to protest the weakening to the Management Policies (thereby jeopardizing its management consulting partnership).

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