Upper Delaware Council under threat
Feds threaten inspector general’s investigation
NARROWSBURG, NY — As the first year of the Trump Administration labors to a conclusion, the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) continues to struggle with this year’s newly intense financial oversight by the National Park Service (NPS).
When they adjourned their October 5 meeting, UDC members were looking to a crucial Oct. 19 conference telephone call with NPS finance officers, a call that some said could lead to the demise of the UDC. Things have gotten more complicated since then.
The call was then to decide if UDC could retain a $128,000 unrestricted fund. That fund has kept the council financially afloat on various occasions when the NPS or Congress has failed to keep to scheduled funding. UDC’s only source of funding since its founding in 1988 has been a static $300,000 annual NPS grant. Additional annual funding of $100,000 each, promised by New York and Pennsylvania has never appeared.
UDC’s unrestricted fund was derived from interest that the UDC once earned on its federal allocation. During first the 23 years of UDC existence the National Park Service provided the $300,000 grant as a lump sum payment at the start of the fiscal year. That allowed for UDC’s investment in certificates of deposit and the resulting $128,000 in interest. During the past seven years of congressional budget uncertainty and sequestering, funds have been parsed out, not always on time, with the passage of “continuing resolutions,” which ended UDC’s ability to add to the earned interest.
NPS, claiming it has officially learned only recently of the existence of this effort to save money rather than expend or refund every dollar in the budget, demanded an explanation. The conference call was to begin that explanation, but it was cancelled in favor of a paperwork exchange.
That began with a terse Oct. 30 demand for “copies of all documentation that relates to where money in this account originated” to allow NPS to determine “whether these funds are strictly assets of UDC as stated by the UDC auditor and members of the council.”
This despite 30 years of independent auditor’s reports, which have identified no deficiencies in the UDC s administration of federal funds and detail the unrestricted fund schedules for each fiscal year without any previous challenges.
That included Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s multi-month, system-wide review of grants exceeding $100,000 beginning in April. During that suspension of NPS funding, UDC expended its unrestricted fund in paying monthly expenses and only recovered it with the temporary renewal of funding in September.
From her Colorado office, Heidi Sage, chief of the NPS Financial Assistance Policy Branch, also warned on Oct. 30 that if “it is determined that these funds have been improperly handled under federal post-award regulations or the UDC fails to provide this information by the date requested, this matter will be subject to further investigation.”
Sage demanded that the documentation be provided in two weeks’ time, “no later than November 13.”
That prompted a similarly terse November 2, UDC reply terming the deadline as “unreasonable and unrealistic,” and called for an extension to Dec 1.
As the NPS demand was “open-ended,” UDC offered to “provide the past three years' worth of relevant records,” but requested additional funding to pay for the accountants work in recovering the records package. They also noted UDC has been once again forced to use unrestricted funds since there has been zero funding from NPS since September 30.
UDC requested a reply by Nov. 7, but it was Nov. 9 before a reply from Northeast Region Chief Financial Officer in Philadelphia, Alexa Molnar arrived granting the extension. However, Molnar noted that NPS sought all relevant documentation and should three years not provide that, “the issue will have to be referred to the Department of Interior Office of Inspector General for further review.”
Molnar said while the accountants cost is “an allowable indirect cost,” NPS would not guarantee additional funding.
Assuming the UDC accepts the Nov. 9 letter’s conditions, the full UDC panel would need to meet to review and approve any submission later this month.