NPS orders ethics review of program giving Interior leader access to $43K in free concert tickets

Posted at 4:59 PM, Sep 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-06 18:59:22-04

The inspector general for the Interior Department published a report Thursday outlining questions about a performing arts center run under the National Park Service that’s led the service to order an ethics review.

The report included a call for an ethics review of a long-running arrangement that gives the leader of the department, currently Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, access to an estimated $43,000 in free concert tickets a year. The program has been in place for past secretaries as well.

The National Park Service, in response to the report, said it had “engaged an ethics officer” within the department for the recommended review of the practice, where the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts provides the interior secretary with eight free tickets to every performance at the park.

Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, a spokesperson for the National Park Service, said in an email that the foundation’s 20-year contract, which ends this October, states that the secretary receives “a box of (8) seats for each performance” and that negotiations had been underway between the agency and the foundation since October of last year for a new agreement.

“While the intent was to have a new agreement in place by October 1, 2018, we want to be thoughtful and make sure we are able to fully consider and address the recommendations in the OIG Special Report,” Anzelmo-Sarles said.

According to the inspector general, Wolf Trap is the only national park dedicated solely to the performing arts, and it has provided free tickets to the department since the 1970s through an agreement between the National Park Service and the nonprofit foundation that runs the performing arts center.

The report noted that the inspector general for the department recommended a prohibition on free tickets as far back as 1979.

CNN has reached out to the Department of Interior for comment on the report and review of the ticket arrangement.

Outside of the scrutiny on the park’s free tickets and call for an ethics review, the report highlighted several other areas of concern for the Virginia performing arts location.

Chief among the report’s findings is that the foundation “appeared to be self-sufficient” but nevertheless has received funding from the federal government despite an agreement that it stop receiving federal money once it could stand alone.