Blue Chip Consulting: An Interesting Question with a Painfully Obvious Answer

November 30, 2022

I read “Why Is Booz Allen Renting Us Back Our Own National Parks?” The author is asking a BIG question with what may be a tiny answer.

The essay states:

Today I’m writing about how the giant government contracting firm Booz Allen and 13 government agencies have been renting back to the public access to our own lands by forcing us to pay junk fees to use national parks.

The essay runs through some historical information about land. Interesting, but I tuned that type of information when I had to take a class in US history as a freshman at the third-rate outfit which accepted me as a student. Sure, the professor became a US congress person and had influence. But the lectures about land, Henry Clay, and Manifest Destiny did not compute. (In 1962 I was trying to figure out how to get an IBM computer to accept a program to index Latin sermons. Land was a fungible, and I was and remain on the intangible side of life.)

A US government Web site becomes a point of reference in the essay. Now you may think that US government Web sites are no big deal. Rest assured that in preparing annual budgets, Web sites are indeed a big deal. Did you know that US national laboratories want traffic because click data let’s some labs say to a Congressional committee: “We are pulling in eyeballs because our research is Number One with a bullet.” Believe me. Some people’s jobs depend on getting an elected official to see Web traffic as germane to pulse weapon funding or more esoteric activities.

The Web site referenced is not involved in nuclear research information. Recreation.gov becomes a way for a government agency to demonstrate that it is [a] serving citizens, [b] demonstrating that it is operating as a business, not a service organization, and [c] in step with hip digital trends. The write up points out that my former employer Booz Allen does a great deal of business with the Federal sector. The write up points out that Booz Allen has been involved in interesting and often big dollar projects. Some of these projects are so-so; others not so so-so; and a number of them are home runs. Booz Allen is an organization of hitters, not sitters.

I noted this passage in the write up:

In 2017, Booz Allen got a 10-year $182 million contract to consolidate all booking for public lands and waters, with 13 separate agencies participating, from the Bureau of Land Management to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration to the National Park Service to the Smithsonian Institution to the Tennessee Valley Authority to the US Forest Service. The funding structure of the site is exactly what George Washington Plunkitt would design. Though there’s a ten year contract with significant financial outlays, Booz Allen says the project was built “at no cost to the federal government.” In the contractor’s words, “the unique contractual agreement is a transaction-based fee model that lets the government and Booz Allen share in risk, reward, results, and impact.” In other words, Booz Allen gets to keep the fees charged to users who want access to national parks. Part of the deal was that Booz Allen would get the right to negotiate fees to third party sites that want access to data on Federal lands.

Then the essay notes:

Yes, Booz Allen gets to steal some pennies, but we have a remarkable system of public lands and waters that are broadly available for all of us to use on a relatively equal basis. And we can still see the power of George-ism in the advocacy of hikers and in the intense view that members of Congress had when they passed the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act in 2004, which strictly regulated fees that Americans would have to pay to access our Federal lands.

Then the essay includes a statement which baffles me:

We are in a moment of institutional corruption, but these moments are transitory as institutions change.

Now let’s answer the question, “Why is Booz Allen renting us back our own national parks?”

My answer is my personal opinion, and you may choose to disagree:

  1. Government professionals directly or indirectly created a statement of work designed to help a unit of a government agency meet its annual objectives; for instance, cost recovery so citizens benefit without the agency spending government money. Remember that Booz Allen gets paid to create a fee generation system which pays Booz Allen and makes users of Recreation.gov really happy. At the same time, the agency officials get credit for a job well done and possibly some power or money related benefit.
  2. Booz Allen (in its present form) was shaped in the mid 1970s specifically to capture government contracts of any type. The purpose of the capture is to generate fee based revenue from professional services and in some cases by creating a fungible thing like a cartridge ejection mechanism. The object is to bill in accordance with the tasks set forth in the statement of work and implement applicable scope changes in order to respond to the client agency’s needs.
  3. The projects — whether Recreation.gov, the structure of the US Department of Navy, or providing inputs to space warfare analysts — give the professionals working in US government agencies a wide range of interesting work tasks. These tasks include, but are not limited to, attending meetings, meeting with sub-contractors, coordinating with other government entities, and in the case of national park projects, a field trip, maybe many field trips.

Thus, the answer to the question is that Booz Allen does not rent back national parks. Booz Allen plus a small number other blue chip consulting firms create work for Federal employees and for those paid directly by Booz Allen. Think of Booz Allen as the engine room of the government machine.

The march through history, the precedents for land use, and the other History 121 topics are completely irrelevant to making an essentially unmanageable and functionally impaired national park system appear to work reasonably well.

I would ask the author of the essay: What would be a better method? Would it be possible to find an optimally performing government agency and transport those systems and methods to those entities involved in Recreation.gov? How about using the Internal Revenue Service as a model? What if one snags the Social Security Agency or Health and Human Services as a model? We can jump branches and emulate the Senate sergeant at arm’s management methods? Do any of these provide a model?

To answer these questions my thought is that some government agencies will hire either Booz Allen or a similar firm.

Why? Booz Allen can do work, give government professionals tasks to complete, and send invoices.

The BIG question has a small, simple answer. Plus one can reserve a space for vanlifers whose rides conform to the National Park guidelines. That’s a deliverable.

Stephen E Arnold, November 30, 2022

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