Recreation.Gov article in Wall Street Journal


Sep 10, 2021
Thought everyone would enjoy the millions made by the Recreation.Gov subcontractor, Hamilton Inc.
The following is an article from the Wall Street Journal.....

Article can be found in the April 7th Wall Street Journal.

"National Park Visits Are Surging, and One Firm Is Making Unexpected Millions"

By Allison Pohle Updated April 6, 2023 5:23 pm ET

"Visitors driving into Montana’s Glacier National Park this summer must buy a vehicle pass on The pass is free, but visitors pay a $2 fee to book the reservation.
Visitors might assume that, like entrance fees, the reservation charges help pay for improving trails around the park’s Running Eagle Falls or expanding the park’s volunteer program. But a chunk of the money ends up with consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.
Booz Allen runs, the website and app where people book campsites, hikes and permits on U.S. public land. The company has a five-year contract that is up for renewal this year. In its bid for the work, Booz Allen used data provided by the government to estimate that over the first five years of the contract, it would receive $87 million, and a total of about $182 million over 10 years.
Booz Allen gets paid every time a user makes a reservation on, per its government contract. That has earned the company money far beyond the projections in its bid.

This arrangement for the program, in which the government and Booz Allen work together on a number of services including a reservation website, contact center and data sharing, has led to criticism from some park goers. They have questioned whether the government negotiated a payment structure that is in the public’s best interest.
Government officials say this payment structure shifts the risk onto the contractor. Asked about the contract over time, the government said it continuously re-evaluates market trends when striking a deal related to reservations on public lands.
Visits to public lands surged during the pandemic as Americans vacationed outdoors, prompting many parks to add reservation systems to manage crowds and protect natural resources.
That has meant travelers often cannot visit popular public lands like Rocky Mountain National Park without booking on first and paying a fee. Charges from around the nation include $2 to book an entry time to a park, $9 to enter a hiking lottery, and many others.
Booz Allen leadership has described the benefits of per-transaction fee structures like the one uses. “One thing I learned in B-school, for all that money, it’s a small number times a big number is a big number,” Booz Allen president and chief executive Horacio Rozanski said at the 2019 Citi Global Technology Conference.
The arrangement has its critics, including members of a lawsuit against Booz Allen seeking class-action status, and other die-hard national park visitors. They say the government has let a multibillion-dollar company profit by charging for access to public lands—access that used to cost less, or nothing. The lawyers said in the suit that the company is “forcing American consumers to pay Ticketmaster-style junk fees to access national parks and other federal recreational lands.”

Booz Allen says such claims mischaracterize its work and its compensation structure. officials say the arrangement is an example of efficiency in government: Users get a technologically sound website at no cost to taxpayers. Park officials say the system has eliminated hours spent processing cash transactions. Government officials also say the government has earned significantly more fee revenue than it would have without the contract and that Booz Allen’s bid was “substantially lower” than its competitors’ bids.

The site​

The pay-per-transaction model has existed for federal reservation services like since the mid-1990s, federal officials say. They say the structure gives contractors incentive to continuously improve
Booz Allen isn’t the first company to run When the company bid for the contract in 2016, government officials gave it historical reservation data and figures for projected growth to inform how much operating the site might cost, the website’s government staffers say.

ince Booz Allen took over, the site’s scope has grown, along with the number of fees. offers reservations at over 121,000 individual sites. Federal officials say the expanded services give park managers more tools to manage visitation, including venue reservations, timed-entry tickets, even permits to cut down Christmas trees on public land.

More than 23 million users had accounts in the 2022 fiscal year. The site covers services from 13 different federal agencies, including the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Booz Allen’s contract allows it to run for five years, with five subsequent one-year options based on performance. In addition to running the reservation system, the company also manages a customer call center and an internal mobile app for agencies.

It is hard for park visitors to know where their money goes when they make a reservation. Dozens of users said they assumed all fees go to benefit the lands they visit.

Over 23 million people used in the 2022 fiscal year to access spots like the Angels Landing trail at Zion National Park in Utah.Photo: ALAMY
In the invoices obtained by the Journal, the per-transaction amounts paid to Booz Allen were redacted, due to what the government says are trade secrets. Booz Allen has made a similar claim about these amounts in response to the recent suit.

About 10 million reservations were made on in the 2022 fiscal year, up from 3.76 million in the 2019 fiscal year, according to officials. They say the amount paid to Booz Allen for each transaction hasn’t changed in the five years and the recent visitation boom brought unexpected revenue through, and thus to Booz Allen.

The Forest Service oversees the contract. Gordie Blum, the agency’s acting director of recreation, heritage and volunteer resources, says having the company run the reservations system is a great value, given the technical requirements needed. It has generated hundreds of millions in recreation fees that go back to parks, forests and public lands, distinct from the fees that fund Booz Allen’s operation, Forest Service officials say.

The visitors​

Some visitors have welcomed the reservation programs as a tool that reduces crowds, which protects park wildlife and improves the experience for park goers. Others have criticized the restriction of entry to public lands and have lamented the difficulty in getting reservations.

“It really galls me that my tax dollars are going to maintaining that public asset, but then somebody is privately profiting off of it,” says Spencer Heinz, a 29-year-old mechanical engineer from Portland, Ore., who uses for backpacking permits.

The lawsuit filed in January in Virginia by seven outdoor enthusiasts claims the fees deceive visitors into thinking that the money goes directly to aid public lands. The complaint says Booz Allen is charging fees similar to ambiguous entertainment and travel surcharges President Biden labeled “junk fees” in his February State of the Union address.

Booz Allen is seeking to dismiss the suit. A company spokeswoman said the 13 federal agencies determine whether to charge fees on and how those fees are structured, collected and ultimately used.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers say the fees violate a federal rule that allows public lands to charge recreation fees.

A fee to enter Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area was the subject of a lawsuit involving ALAMY
The lawyers cite a March 2022 ruling in a separate case, which found that a $2 processing fee to access Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon wasn’t adopted properly because it wasn’t subject to public notice. The 2023 suit argues that the current fees are similarly illegal, and should be refunded to users.

In its response to the suit, Booz Allen said in a legal filing that it can’t be tried separately from the federal agencies that use The company also said it doesn’t have the authority to refund the fees because it doesn’t charge travelers. “Booz Allen does not charge any fees to—nor does it receive any fees from—the users of, including the plaintiffs,” the Booz Allen spokeswoman said in an email.

The company earns a commission for each transaction processed on, according to 2022 testimony from Rick DeLappe, interagency program manager for The processing fees are first held in a U.S. Treasury account before they are paid to Booz Allen each month, he added.


What has been your experience booking tickets or making campsite reservations for a national park? Join the conversation below.
Christine Wong, a 36-year-old physician from Honolulu, says she has submitted at least 10 applications to visit the popular destination known as the Wave near the Utah-Arizona border in Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. Applying to the lottery for a chance to visit the Wave, which can accommodate 64 people each day, costs $9, whether the application is successful or not.

Of the $9, $5 ultimately goes to Booz Allen and $4 goes to the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the site, a BLM spokesman said. users submitted about 130,000 applications for permits to hike the Wave last year, generating about $648,200 for Booz Allen and $518,600 for the BLM, a BLM spokesman says. The BLM also collected about $35,500 in permit fees from successful applicants, he says.

Ms. Wong says she considered her numerous unsuccessful applications a donation, not a payment to a third party.

“I always assumed the fee went to the park,” she says.

—Inti Pacheco contributed to this article.

Write to Allison Pohle at "
If the federal government and/or BAH want me to trust this arrangement, a "pinky promise" that this is the best system just doesn't cut it. Show me the detailed financials and usage statistics - not isolated, cherry-picked numbers from one group or another. (Sure seems like this should be the case for all government contracts.) You could convert me to a supporter real fast if the numbers are a fraction as good as BAH likes to claim - makes me lean pretty hard the other way when we're all in the dark.

I understand reasonable compensation for work provided, but over 50% of the revenue going to BAH for unsuccessful applications? The data in the article lacks context, but it sure doesn't look good - which is kind of my point.

It's easy to say, "I'll just go somewhere else," and I do (more often than not I'd say), but that doesn't really do anything about the problem. The very real need to manage access to overused areas is important and will only keep spreading.
Think this with recreation, gov is not right. Count me in as a Big Rebel against BAH. So many places to go where one does not need to go thru BAH. And this where I will be going. Thomas Jefferson said, "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obediance to God". And in my opinion BAH and having to go thru recreation gov is tyranny. And all of these extra fees with no alternatives but having to use BAH in my opinion is not right!
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Well, we have a constitutional federal republic, along with capitalism, and it is all ours until it's not.
Tyranny? Just because you have to make a reservation for a fucking camp spot? And a private for profit company is running it and, wait for it, are making money off of it? Horror of horrors.
BTW, I see no reason for you to bring the almighty into this discussion. She might disagree with you on the whole tyrant thing and get mad.

Edit: I just used to pay for my canoe trip in a week. It was expensive - $85 for 2 people for 5 days. Tyranny!
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Well, it was my reply and thoughts rather you like it or not. I do Not like Recreation Gov! I see what a big problem is that in many of these places one has to go thru recreation gov with paying the extra fees to someone private and not the government without any freaking alternatives. If it actually went to the government then someone private, those extra fees, it might be different. I personally do not think that is right! But there is much much much country where we can hike, bike, and recreate withOUT giving Booz Allen one freaking dollar of our money. This is my opinion GN Watts rather you like it or not. You are free to comment and live as you like and so am I. Live Free or Die!
I never said you did not have a right to express your opinion, or how to live.

You already have the right idea. Avoid areas that require you to register. It is a system I have used for a long time now. Visit in the off season.
Fewer people. Little or no government involvement.
You want alternatives? Play the system, vote, get involved, help change policy. It's the American way! Or you can talk about tyranny and dying.
It's your constitutional right.
GNWatts, Yes I do vote! And do think this is an over reach of the government which we can stand up against. Do live a simple life and how much these days off grid and outside the system. Personally I love that quote by Thomas Jefferson! And do see much tyranny imposed on today's society by not only our government but the rich and powerful which we should stand up against. It might be here just a few dollars here and there, but it adds up over time. Yes live an alternative life. For I have for many years and there are still many places where one can go and recreate without having to pay one single penny. And some of these places like the South Absaroka Wildland Country ... one could easily get lost on purpose.

It is also a right to speak up against governmental over reach in my opinion like this where we can including on a forum like this.
I agree with nearly everything you just said.

But not the tyranny and dying part.
And the part about government over reach.
Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. as a website works great. I'd rather not have to pay for stuff, but voters don't want to spend enough to maintain our public lands, so we get user fees. Combine that with an increasing number of potential users and we get quotas. BAH doesn't set the price of permits or the quotas or most of the other things that people complain about, the land agency makes most of the actual decisions.

I think the article points to one of the biggest problems. Someone in the government wrote a contract that basically paid the contractor a per user fee that is not based on the actual costs of the contractor. So, a huge increase in users in the last couple of years leads to a windfall profit for the contractor. A simple cap on the total amount of payments would have solved this problem. Hopefully, this will be dealt with when the contract is up.

totally agree with @TheMountainRabbit that seeing actual numbers would make me a lot more confident that I wasn't getting cheated
Well, we have a constitutional federal republic, along with capitalism, and it is all ours until it's not.
Tyranny? Just because you have to make a reservation for a fucking camp spot? And a private for profit company is running it and, wait for it, are making money off of it? Horror of horrors.
BTW, I see no reason for you to bring the almighty into this discussion. She might disagree with you on the whole tyrant thing and get mad.

Edit: I just used to pay for my canoe trip in a week. It was expensive - $85 for 2 people for 5 days. Tyranny!

Way over the top and aggressive but I agree in spirit.

People griped about entry fees, griped about the parks being overrun, griped when the capacity caps/reservation systems went in, gripe that someone gets paid to build and maintain the systems, etc. Gripe when people use federal lands in any way that they, personally, do not.

Government websites suck. Reservation systems suck but at least the privately managed website has always worked for me.

Bunch of nonsense.
I've never needed a permit to enter Rocky Mountain National Park since the permits began to be required. If you're willing to wake up early enough, you can "bypass" that requirement, and I prefer early morning hikes anyway because I avoid the masses of tourists until I'm practically back to my car. I'm not sure if this is the case for some of the other parks as well

As has been mentioned, the incredible increase in visitations was not predicted when the contract was signed four years ago. It's kind of hard to blame the government for that. However, the government should have known that this contract should have been a time and material contract vs them getting a percentage of each entrance/application transaction. And $5 of the $9 transaction going to Booz Allen is a hefty "commission". I work as an IT guy, so I understand the need for maintenance of custom-built software solutions from a code perspective, as well as the cost to host this application - likely in the cloud where the servers are managed elsewhere and by another company. But that seems a very high percentage to charge. Not only that, software doesn't "depreciate" the more it's used, so there's really no need to do anything other than a time and material contract. You pay Booz Allen when they have to have their engineers work on something. But I guarantee, as someone that's also worked as a consultant and put together sales proposals, that Booz Allen had the idea for the "commission-based payment" as opposed to time and material, because they knew there was a likelihood that visitations would increase and their profit margin would be more fat. (visitation numbers from 2003 - 2019 when Covid started, steadily increased, supporting this "possibility")

Entrance to any public land should not provide a healthy profit margin to any private company. If you want to allow private companies to run and potentially profit off of gift shop purchases or meals purchased within the park, by all means do that - that is a voluntary expense incurred by the visitor. But a private company's continued profiting off of each entrance into land owned by the people seems awfully shady.
The overall trend is pretty concerning to me.

I remember speaking with a ranger in the backcountry office in Yellowstone last year who had about 15 years on the job, just about how he liked the position and if he got to spend any time out in the field. He told me that about half his job was office work, and the other half had him out on the trails doing maintenance, surveys, etc. which he loved.

He also told me that he was grandfathered into that role, and that recently jobs in the backcountry office have became solely a fee collecting position.

Currently there are plenty of places in the US I can backpack that aren't affected by or their permits, but it seems like every year they're taking over more campgrounds and backcountry reservations.
A couple of park rangers (not Yellowstone), have told me that the superintendents are pressured to get services and activities from their parks onto Those who told me, said they were quietly trying to convince their superintendents to not do so, that the associated fees made it so their visitors were less likely to come. But I always consider that superintendents are political animals… shaking hands, smiling, following directions. Maybe the next Monkeywrench Gang will be digital.
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