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Book Cover
A Brief History Of The National Park Service




National Park Idea

Early Growth

NPS Created






Plans and Design





Historic Conservation

Land Planning

State Cooperation


Work Camps

Recreation Study




Antiquities Act

Organic Act

Historic Sites Act

Recreational-Area Programs Act




Supervision over all legal matters of the Service is the responsibiity of the Office of Chief Counsel. This Office is an outgrowth of the position of Assistant Attorney in the Secretary's Office held by former Director Horace M. Albright before establishment of the National Park Service in 1916, when the national parks were administered directly by the Secretary.

With the organization of the Service in 1917, Mr. Albright was appointed assistant director under former Director Stephen T. Mather. The position of assistant attorney formerly held by Mr. Albright was supplanted by that of "law clerk" authorized under the organic act of 1916. The position of "law clerk" advanced steadily in responsibility and volume of work as the Service grew from a small organization of some 25 employees in the Washington Office, to its present size. The designation of the position, accordingly, changed progressively to "assistant attorney," "legal officer," "assistant to the director," "assistant director," and finally to "chief counsel." All of these changes have taken place during the incumbency of the present Chief Counsel, George A. Moskey, who entered the Service in 1923.

The Office of Chief Counsel was established October 24, 1938, when the former Branch of Land Acquisition and Regulation, headed by Mr. Moskey as assistant director, was abolished. This change, made at the time a number of revisions were effected in branch names and functions, was considered advisable in view of the fact that the Branch handled not only matters pertaining to land acquisition and regulation, but all legal matters for the Service.

The Office is composed of a chief counsel and a force of assistants, principally attorneys. In addition, the Office also includes engineers, land appraisers and buyers, and specialized clerks. The functions of the Office of Chief Counsel are as follows: Supervision over all legal matters of the Service, rendition of administrative-legal advice, supervision over land acquisition, establishment of title to water rights, legislation affecting the national park system, and regulation of the various uses of these areas, and the acquisition of parkway rights-of-way. The Office renders assistance in formulating policies to govern various commercial activities in the national park system necessary for the accommodation and convenience of the visiting public. It acts as consultant to cooperating state and private agencies in technical matters relating to the establishment of new park or monument areas authorized by Congress.

From this description, it will be seen that the functions of the Office of Chief Counsel are not limited to legal work. They are approximately 75 per cent administrative in nature, and include the responsibility of carrying on and supervising important programs of the Service's work, principally those with incidental legal aspects. For instance, a land purchase program is an administrative function. In the consummation of a purchase of land, however, legal questions are involved and must be dealt with and answered. The rendering of legal opinions and advising administrative officers on strictly legal phases of the Service work constitutes the other 25 per cent of the work of the Office. The duties and responsibilities of the Chief Counsel are thus distinguished from those of the Solicitor of the Department who is the chief legal officer of the Department, whose functions are essentially legal in nature, and to whom all legal questions requiring Departmental decision or approval are referred. With the great administrative responsibilities of the Office of Chief Counsel, it is not equipped with attorneys or personnel to undertake exhaustive research and investigations with a view to bringing out a legal issue. Its personnel is barely sufficient to carry on its programmed activities and the giving of legal guidance to administrative officers of the Service on current problems. Therefore, when situations confront the Service which require extended investigation or research as to facts before incidental legal questions are developed, field officers and administrative officers directly dealing with the problem are required to provide necessary reports from which the facts may be ascertained.

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Last Modified: Mon, Jun 16 2003 10:00:00 pm PDT

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