Free concert tickets flow to Interior secretary, despite ethics questions

Free concert tickets flow to Interior secretary, despite ethics questions
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The Department of the Interior’s latest contract with a National Park Service concert venue again provides 20 years of free tickets for the department’s secretary.

The Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, located outside of Washington, D.C., has provided free tickets to the department since the 1970s, something the department’s Office of Inspector General has advised against for almost as many years.

An agreement between Interior and the nonprofit that runs Wolf Trap guarantees eight tickets per show to the secretary, reaching an estimated value of $43,000 in entertainment per year.

Last year, the inspector general's office again flagged the issue, recommending the department undertake an ethical review of the arrangement. Interior complied with that request, but a spokeswoman for the inspector general said they’ve yet to see a policy governing how those tickets might be used.

"The ethics opinion agreed with our conclusion that these tickets have not been handled appropriately in the past," said Nancy DiPaolo, director of external affairs for Interior's inspector general, told The Hill. "There needs to be a transparent policy for how they give out and account for these tickets."

The agreement signed Tuesday, first reported by E&E News on Friday, will continue to provide tickets to the secretary over the next 20-year term of the contract.

“The tickets at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts have been a long-standing tradition for the Department, and after an ethics and legal review, it was confirmed that the tickets are government property and may be used by the Department for authorized purposes,” Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, chief of public affairs for the National Park Service, said in a statement. “Consistent with this determination, under the new agreement the Foundation will continue to provide the Department of the Interior with eight seats for each performance.”

Anzelmo-Sarles said the department consulted with “general law and ethics lawyers in Department” but officials at Interior did not respond to questions about how the department plans to disperse the tickets.

“The tickets may be for things such as facilitating site visits and inspections of the park during Foundation operations [performances] and to promote stewardship and provide opportunities for dialogue and education about the work of the Department, the National Park Service, and the impact of public-private partnerships like the one between the NPS and Wolf Trap Foundation,” she said.