Tags: Barack Obama | Joe Biden | NPS | park service | investigation | lodge | Joe Biden

Feds Investigate Use of Park Lodge by Obama VIPs, Biden Family

Image: Feds Investigate Use of Park Lodge by Obama VIPs, Biden Family
Brinkerhoff Lodge at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. (National Park Service)

By    |   Tuesday, 28 Oct 2014 05:48 PM

An investigation was launched Tuesday into the National Park Service's lax management of a stately lodge once owned by an oil baron that is often used as a vacation retreat for Obama administration officials — including Vice President Joe Biden, whose family spent four nights in August at the stunning lakeside property, Time magazine reports.

The four-bedroom Brinkerhoff Lodge in Grand Teton National Park has been reserved for official purposes only since 1992, but the Park Service's interpretation of that policy has been so broad that senior officials have been allowed to flop for cheap if there's even just a smidgeon of official business involved, according to Time.com.

Biden's office told Time the vice president would reimburse the Park Service $1,200 for "renting the Brinkerhoff" for his family's summer vacation. A Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman, Jackie Skaggs, told Time the Biden family visit met the internal criteria since he got an official park briefing and tour.

"With few, if any, exceptions, officials who stay at the Brinkerhoff are given in-depth briefings and/or issue tours," she said in an email, Time reports.

But that explanation didn't cut it with the Interior Department.

"In light of inconsistencies in billing practices and ambiguity in the policy at the park, the Interior Department has directed the National Park Service to conduct an immediate review of compliance with the policy and related recordkeeping and to seek reimbursement, where appropriate, for use of the Brinkerhoff," National Park Service spokeswoman April Slayton told Time in an email.

Time notes Biden isn't the only administration official to vacation on the cheap at the Brinkerhoff. Citing records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Time reports at least four cabinet-level officials, a deputy White House chief of staff, and the director of the Park Service have stayed there.

Included among the officials were former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — whose entourage included his son, Illinois state Sen. Darin LaHood — and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The officials have said there was confusion over their need to pay for staying there, and a spokesperson for Biden told Time the vice president's office was still waiting for an invoice.

"The office understood from the park service that personal use would cost the local per diem rate," the Biden spokesperson said, referring to the schedule of overnight hotel costs maintained by the General Services Administration for a single hotel room.

Biden's office said he'll cough up $1,200 for the four nights, but that hardly covers what it would cost to stay at nearby lodges, Time notes.

At the Jackson Lake Lodge, a two-bedroom cabin that sleeps four without a view of the lake averages $250 a night in August. Nearby homes outside the park can rent for more than $1,000 per night during the summer, Time reports.

Located on the banks of Jackson Lake with views of Mount Moran, the Brinkerhoff Lodge was built in 1947 by the family of Zachary Brinkerhoff, a prominent Wyoming oil company executive. It features a two-story living room, a full-length deck, Western-style chandeliers and interior walls lined with log or knotty pine paneling.

After it was acquired by the National Park Service in the 1950s, the lodge became one of several "VIP" properties across the country, used by presidents, members of Congress, and government bureaucrats. The practice came under fire in the late 1980s and early 1990s, prompting a new policy for its use.

Still, the Park Service defends allowing officials to stay there because it's cheaper than putting them up at hotels.

"Historic structures are better maintained when they are actively used and the park has determined that seasonal use of the Brinkerhoff will better protect this valuable historic facility," Skaggs said. "By allowing officials and governmental employees access to occasional overnight stays in the Brinkerhoff, the park is able to fund the long-term maintenance of this historic structure."

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An investigation was launched Tuesday into the National Park Service's lax management of a stately lodge that is often used as a vacation retreat for Obama administration officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, whose family spent four nights there in August.
NPS, park service, investigation, lodge, Joe Biden, Obama officials
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2014-48-28
Tuesday, 28 Oct 2014 05:48 PM
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