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How a grant grew from $35,000 to almost a million

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By The Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group

In 2004, the National Park Service gave the George Wright Society, a Hancock, Mich.-based nonprofit that promotes preservation and understanding of natural and cultural resources, a $35,000 cooperative agreement (a kind of grant in which the recipient will work closely with a federal agency to accomplish a public purpose) to host a pair of conferences. Over five years, that initial cooperative agreement grew in value to more than $800,000, and came to include such projects as coordinating the complex travel arrangements for archaeologists to visit Afghanistan (something the nonprofit has yet to do).

The Inspector General of the Interior Department found that neither the Parks Service nor the George Wright Society kept proper paperwork to account for funds, that the Parks Service “provided virtually no oversight once funds were transferred” to the nonprofit, and that six of eleven members of the George Wright Society’s board of directors were Park Service employees, and had “significant input” into some of the 17 modifications of that initial, $35,000 award.

Asked whether he exercised any oversight to ensure money was spent properly, the official of the National Parks Service most closely connected to it, Dr. John W. Dennis, told investigators from the IG’s office, “I did not do that, no…Again, I’m a scientist…not an accountant.”

The Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group is part of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based organization that uses cutting-edge technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable.


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