Advocacy Update: Working with Federal Agencies: Park and Recreation Advocates Should Tap into Administrative Law to Accomplish Policy Priorities

Article excerpt

NRPA's national agenda for parks and recreation impacts policymakers in a variety of ways. We not only advocate for specific legislation on Capitol Hill, but we promote the benefits of parks and recreation before the various federal agencies, such as the National Park Service and even the Department of Labor.

Many of our advocates are solid allies and key players in our legislative battles to further and improve upon statutory law. However, there is another aspect of the law that remains relatively untapped by the park and recreation community on the national level--administrative law.

NRPA's Division of Public Policy generates awareness and support for park and recreation issues with federal agencies that create the complex system of administrative law. It's this law that guides and directs most of our nation's policies, created by administrative agencies in the form of rules, regulations, procedures, orders and decisions. The various federal agencies have different missions and different kinds of authority, allowing them to adapt to an ever-changing political environment. Nearly everything from the U.S. government is filtered through the bureaucracy.

NRPA has just begun to engage this bureaucracy on the policy level. In early 2005, we responded to the Department of Justice's rulemaking on the revised guidelines implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 (ABA). NRPA also responded to the Department of Education's decision to create regulations to implement programs under the recently amended Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

One of our most recent policy victories occurred as a result of our successful work with federal agency officials working to revise a fact sheet. Fact sheets are typically issued by an agency to clarify and sometimes enforce aspects of the law. At first, it sounds like this is an obscure action and one that wouldn't occupy a lot of time of our staff.

However, the ripple effects of the revision would have had long-term and potentially detrimental impacts on the basic operation of our members' aquatic facilities.

As such, the Public Policy Division launched into action and began a seven-month campaign to work with the Department of Labor in an effort to achieve a re-interpretation of the law that would equate to a policy victory for NRPA members.

It is first necessary to provide some background on this policy issue. In June 2005, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a fact sheet indicating that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) prohibits 15-year-olds from working as lifeguards at pools featuring "elevated slides, artificial waves, or other amusement-type 'rides' or mechanical devices." This clarification essentially forbade the employment of 15-year-old lifeguards at waterparks unless they were working in a "traditional swimming pool."

NRPA was particularly concerned with the vague definition given in Fact Sheet #60 for a "traditional swimming pool." The definition provided was open to interpretation; therefore, its application to pools that might be operated by park and recreation agencies was somewhat unclear.

Our first step in working on this policy issue was to meet with agency officials. We had multiple objectives in conversing with the Department of Labor. We wanted to present our arguments as a coalition, representing both public and private operators of aquatic facilities around the country.

Second, we wanted to find out why the department was so dramatically revising their fact sheet, especially at the onset of the swimming season. …