oversight

National Park Service: Efforts Underway to Address Its Maintenance Backlog

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-09-27.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                               United States General Accounting Office

GAO                            Testimony
                               Before the Subcommittee on National
                               Parks, Recreation and Public Lands,
                               Committee on Resources, House of
                               Representatives
For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m. PDT
Saturday, September 27, 2003   NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
                               Efforts Underway to
                               Address Its Maintenance
                               Backlog
                               Statement of Barry T. Hill, Director
                               Natural Resources and Environment




GAO-03-1177T
                                                 September 27, 2003


                                                 NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

                                                 Efforts Underway to Address Its
Highlights of GAO-03-1177T, a testimony          Maintenance Backlog
to the Subcommittee on National Parks,
Recreation and Public Lands, Committee
on Resources, House of Representatives




GAO, the Department of the
                                                 In 2002, GAO reported that the design of the National Park Service’s new asset
Interior, and others have reported
                                                 management process was complete but implementation was just beginning. The
on the National Park Service’s
efforts to develop an effective                  new process will address deferred maintenance, commonly referred to as the
maintenance management process                   maintenance backlog, as part of a much broader approach to its asset
that would, among other things,                  management. When fully developed and implemented, the new process will, for
enable the agency to accurately                  the first time, enable the agency to have a (1) reliable inventory of its assets; (2)
and reliably estimate the amount of              process for reporting on the condition of the assets in its inventory; and (3)
deferred maintenance on its assets.              consistent, systemwide methodology for estimating the deferred maintenance
Over the years, the agency’s                     costs for its assets. As a result, agency managers and the Congress should
estimates of the cost of its deferred            receive much more accurate and reliable information on the amount of deferred
maintenance have varied widely—                  maintenance needs throughout the national park system. Nonetheless, while the
sometimes by billions of dollars.                Park Service’s current efforts are promising, GAO reported on a few areas that
Currently, the agency estimates                  the agency needed to address to improve the performance of the process. These
that its deferred maintenance                    included the need to (1) develop costs and schedules for completing the
backlog will cost over $5 billion. In            implementation of the process, (2) better coordinate the tracking of the process
April 2002, GAO reported on the                  among Park Service headquarters units to avoid duplication of effort within the
status of efforts to develop better              agency; and, (3) better define its approach to determine the condition of its
deferred maintenance data.                       assets, and how much the assessments will cost.
(National Park Service: Status of
Efforts to Develop Better Deferred               Since that report, the agency appears to have made progress. While the
Maintenance Data,GAO-02-568R                     complete implementation of the process will not occur until fiscal year 2006, the
[Washington, D.C.: Apr. 12, 2002])               agency has completed, or is nearing completion of, a number of substantial and
                                                 important steps. According to the Park Service, the agency has completed its
This testimony presents the results              asset inventory and trained staff on the use of the required computer software.
of GAO’s April report and updates                In addition, the Park Service provided information indicating that it was
the progress the Park Service is                 addressing each of the concerns identified in GAO’s 2002 report. Specifically,
making in implementing its new                   the Park Service (1) developed cost and schedule estimates for the complete
asset management process.                        implementation of the process, (2) developed a plan with an implementation
                                                 schedule to eliminate any duplication or inconsistencies between organizational
                                                 components, and (3) completed annual condition assessments—visual
                                                 inspections—on all but nine of the larger parks in the system for which it only
                                                 plans to perform a more comprehensive condition assessment. According to the
                                                 Park Service, the work done so far are necessary steps and reflect some of the
                                                 best practices of the private sector in developing and implementing an effective
                                                 facility management process.




www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-1177T.

To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Barry T. Hill at
(202) 512-3841 or hillbt@gao.gov.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am pleased to be here today to discuss the National Park Service’s
maintenance backlog. GAO, the Department of the Interior, and others
have reported on the Park Service’s efforts to develop an effective
maintenance management process that would, among other things, enable
the agency to provide accurate and reliable estimates of the amount of
deferred maintenance on its assets. Over the years, the agency’s estimates
of the amount of its deferred maintenance backlog have varied widely—
sometimes by billions of dollars. Currently, the agency estimates its
deferred maintenance backlog at over $5 billion. Although the Park
Service has spent almost two decades addressing its maintenance backlog,
it acknowledges that it still does not have the data it needs to properly
manage the broad array of historic, cultural, and natural assets placed in
its care—including accurate and reliable data on its deferred maintenance
needs.1 In 1998, spurred by continuing congressional concerns and new
federal accounting standards,2 the Park Service initiated the design of a
new asset management process that is intended to provide the agency with
a better overall approach to managing its asset inventory. A major goal of
this new process is to provide the Park Service with a reliable and
systematic method for estimating and documenting its deferred
maintenance needs and tracking progress in reducing the amount of
deferred maintenance.

My testimony today will (1) summarize our prior work regarding the
potential of the Park Service’s new asset management process to provide
maintenance data that will permit agency managers and the Congress to
monitor progress in reducing deferred maintenance and (2) update the
progress the Park Service is making in implementing its new asset
management process and realizing its potential for improved management.




1
 This maintenance includes resources and activities needed to maintain facilities and the
infrastructure in the system, such as buildings, trails, botanical gardens, bridges, and other
structures. It does not include maintenance or restoration of natural landscapes, such as
removing non-native plant species from a meadow.
2
 The Statement of Federal Financial Accounting Standards No. 6, Accounting for Plant,
Property, and Equipment, issued by the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board in
1996, requires that deferred maintenance be disclosed in federal agencies’ annual financial
statements beginning in fiscal year 1998.



Page 1                                             Park Service Maintenance GAO-03-1177T
                   For the most part, my testimony is based on a report we issued last year.3
                   At that time, the design of the new process was complete but
                   implementation was just beginning. In preparing for today’s hearing, we
                   obtained updated information from the Park Service. However, we did not
                   have the opportunity to independently verify the information the Park
                   Service provided. To do so would have required work at regional offices
                   and parks. We conducted our work in accordance with generally accepted
                   government auditing standards.


                   As we previously reported, the Park Service’s new asset management
Results in Brief   process is designed to address deferred maintenance, commonly referred
                   to as the maintenance backlog, as part of a much broader approach to
                   asset management. When fully and properly implemented, the new
                   process is expected, for the first time, to enable the agency to have a (1)
                   reliable inventory of its assets; (2) process for reporting on the condition
                   of each asset in its inventory; and (3) consistent, systemwide methodology
                   for estimating the deferred maintenance costs for each asset. As a result,
                   agency managers and the Congress should receive much more accurate
                   and reliable information on the extent of deferred maintenance needs
                   throughout the national park system. Nonetheless, while the Park
                   Service’s current efforts are promising, we reported on a few areas that
                   the agency needed to address to improve the performance of the process.
                   These included the need to (1) develop costs and schedules for completing
                   the implementation of the process so that the agency’s performance could
                   be monitored and assessed, (2) better coordinate the tracking of the
                   process among Park Service headquarters units to avoid duplication of
                   effort within the agency, and (3) better define its approach to assessing the
                   condition of its assets, and determining how much the assessments will
                   cost.

                   Since our report last year, I am pleased to say that the agency appears to
                   have made progress. While complete implementation of the process will
                   not occur until fiscal year 2006, the agency has completed, or nearly
                   completed, several substantial and important steps. According to the Park
                   Service, it has completed its asset inventory, trained staff on the use of the
                   required computer software, and completed most of the on-site
                   inspections necessary to determine the condition and maintenance needs



                   3
                   U.S. General Accounting Office, National Park Service: Status of Efforts to Develop Better
                   Deferred Maintenance Data, GAO-02-568R (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 12, 2002).


                   Page 2                                           Park Service Maintenance GAO-03-1177T
             of inventoried assets. In addition, the Park Service provided information
             indicating that it was addressing each of the concerns identified in our
             prior report.


             The national park system contains 388 park units. These park units have a
Background   diverse inventory of facilities and other assets, including over 18,000
             permanent structures, 8,000 miles of roads, 1,800 bridges and tunnels,
             4,400 housing units, about 700 water and wastewater systems, over 400
             dams, and 200 solid waste operations. The Park Service values these
             assets at over $35 billion. Needless to say, the proper care and
             maintenance of the national parks and their supporting infrastructure is
             essential to the continued use and enjoyment of our national treasures by
             this and future generations. However, for years Park Service officials have
             highlighted the agency’s inability to keep up with its maintenance needs.
             In this connection, Park Service officials and others have often cited a
             continuing buildup of unmet maintenance needs as evidence of
             deteriorating conditions throughout the national park system. The
             accumulation of these unmet needs is commonly referred to as its
             “maintenance backlog.” Although the Park Service has spent almost two
             decades and about $11 million addressing this problem, it still does not
             have a reliable estimate of deferred maintenance needs for its facilities
             and other assets.

             In the past several years, concerns about the cost of operating and
             maintaining federal recreation sites within the National Park Service, as
             well as other federal land management agencies, led the Congress to
             provide a significant new source of funds. This additional source of
             funding—the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program4—was, in part,
             aimed at helping the agencies address their backlogged repair and
             maintenance problems. This new funding source is in addition to annual
             appropriations the Park Service receives each year for maintenance
             activities.5



             4
              Since fiscal year 1996, the Park Service, as well as three other federal land management
             agencies, have been authorized to have a fee demonstration program. Under this temporary
             program, the agencies are permitted to experiment with increased and/or new recreation
             fees. The revenue generated from this program remains available for agency use to address
             a variety of needs, including maintenance,without further appropriation.
             5
              The House Committee on Appropriations has stressed that recreation fees should never be
             used to replace appropriated funds; the fees should be used for direct improvements on
             site that enhance the recreation experience. H.R. Rep. No. 106-646 (2000).


             Page 3                                          Park Service Maintenance GAO-03-1177T
                       Despite the years of attention and funding and the well-intended efforts of
                       the agency and the Congress to resolve the maintenance backlog dilemma,
                       it has not gone away. While Congress continues to provide hundreds of
                       millions of dollars annually to deal with the maintenance backlog at the
                       national parks, the Park Service still has no reliable data on the size of the
                       problem, raising questions about what has been accomplished with the
                       provided funds.


                       As we reported in April 2002, the Park Service has made progress in
When Fully and         developing a new asset management process that, when fully and properly
Properly               implemented, should provide the agency with more accurate and reliable
                       estimates of the amount of deferred maintenance of its assets. As
Implemented, the       currently planned, the new process will, for the first time, enable the
Park Service’s New     agency to have a (1) reliable inventory of its assets; (2) process for
                       reporting on the condition of assets in its inventory; and (3) systemwide
Asset Management       methodology for estimating deferred maintenance costs for assets.
Process Should
Provide Accurate and   The new asset management process is composed of both systemwide,
                       integrated software to track cost and maintenance data and regular
Reliable Deferred      condition assessments of Park Service assets. The cornerstone of the new
Maintenance Data       asset management process is the Facility Management Software System.
                       This cradle-to-grave asset and work management process will allow park,
                       regional office, or Park Service headquarters managers to track when,
                       what, and how much maintenance and related costs has been directed at
                       each specific asset.

                       In addition to using the software system, the Park Service plans to assess
                       the condition of its assets. These assessments will be inspections to
                       document the condition of an asset as measured against applicable
                       maintenance or condition standards. There are two types of condition
                       assessments—annual and comprehensive. Annual assessments are
                       essentially “eyeball inspections” of facilities to identify obvious and
                       apparent deficiencies. Comprehensive assessments are more in-depth
                       inspections to identify less obvious deficiencies, such as foundation or
                       structural problems. While the eye-ball assessments are annual, the
                       comprehensive assessments, which are much more expensive and time-
                       consuming, occur in 5-year cycles. The Park Service is to use the
                       information obtained from these condition assessments to establish the
                       overall condition of a facility or asset, including the resources needed to
                       address its deferred maintenance needs and future facility needs. The cost
                       of identified deferred maintenance needs will be estimated using another
                       computer software system that will provide a uniform method for

                       Page 4                                    Park Service Maintenance GAO-03-1177T
estimating repair and maintenance costs for each asset in the inventory.
Agency managers will use the condition assessment information in
combination with an asset priority ranking system to set priorities for
deferred maintenance projects.

While the design of the new process is complete, we reported in April 2002
that the Park Service had just begun implementing it. For example, at that
time, the agency was still inventorying its assets and training staff on how
to use the new process at about a third of the park units in the national
park system. We reported that because managers at each park will be
required to implement this new process using a uniform systemwide
methodology, the resulting deferred maintenance estimates should permit
agency managers, as well as the Congress, to monitor progress in reducing
deferred maintenance both at the individual park and systemwide levels.
However, we noted that while the new process is promising, its success
cannot be determined until staff in each of the park units are trained and
the new asset management process is fully and properly implemented.

In our last report, we also raised three concerns about the Park Service’s
implementation of the new asset management process. While these
matters were not significant enough to undermine the overall merit of the
new process, we believed that addressing them would improve the
effectiveness of the process. First, even though the Park Service had been
developing its new process for more than 3 years, it had not yet estimated
its total implementation costs or developed a schedule for completing
implementation. While the agency had made progress in developing
schedules and costs for some components of the process, it had not yet
estimated when it will complete all the required condition assessments or
what they will cost. We noted that monitoring and assessing performance
against budgets and time frames would be difficult without complete
estimates and schedules that include all components of the process,
including the completion of condition assessments.

Second, two different operating divisions within the Park Service—
Concessions Management and Facilities Management—were developing
separate processes for tracking and reporting deferred maintenance, even
though both units are responsible for managing the condition of
government-owned facilities. Because both of these units have similar
responsibilities, it seemed reasonable that they would work together in a
coordinated way to ensure that their efforts are not duplicative.

Finally, the Park Service reported that about one-third of the park units
were to complete annual condition assessments by the end of fiscal year

Page 5                                   Park Service Maintenance GAO-03-1177T
                       2002. We noted that this approach may be appropriate for meeting
                       programmatic and financial reporting needs in the short term; however,
                       without comprehensive assessments, this approach might result in
                       overlooking more complex and costly problems in the long term. As a
                       result, this approach could understate the extent of the deferred
                       maintenance problem. Park Service officials told us that the agency
                       eventually planned to conduct comprehensive assessments for all assets.
                       However, at the time they had not developed a plan detailing where, when,
                       and how the assessments will be done or what they will cost.


                       Although full implementation of the new asset management process is still
The Park Service Has   years from completion, the Park Service appears to have made progress
Made Progress          since our last report. Also, importantly, Park Service management has
                       demonstrated its commitment to implementing this process by
Implementing Its       withholding some fiscal year 2003 funding from parks that are not
Asset Management       complying with the agency’s implementation goals.
Process Since Our      The agency now reports that it has completed its inventory of assets for all
Last Report            park units as well as the first round of staff training on the use of the
                       facilities management software. The agency also contracted with a
                       consulting firm to evaluate its training and implementation efforts to help
                       ensure that the training is effective and that the software system is being
                       consistently applied throughout the park system. The Park Service has
                       analyzed the firm’s results and is now developing a training curriculum to
                       address the firm’s recommendations. The Park Service expects to begin
                       implementing the training in January or February 2004.

                       The agency is also addressing each of the issues raised in our last report.
                       Specifically, the Park Service has now developed cost and schedule
                       estimates for the complete implementation of the process. According to
                       the schedule, the process is to be fully implemented by the end of fiscal
                       year 2006, when all the comprehensive condition assessments are
                       complete for all park units and deferred maintenance and other needs can
                       be estimated on a reliable and consistent basis for assets throughout the
                       national park system. The Park Service estimates now that the cost of the
                       complete rollout and implementation, including performing condition
                       assessments, will be about $91 million from fiscal years 1999 through 2006.
                       Thereafter, it estimates that the annual costs of sustaining the process
                       once it is fully operational will be about $20 million.

                       In response to our concern that two different operating divisions within
                       the agency—Concessions Management and Facilities Management—were

                       Page 6                                   Park Service Maintenance GAO-03-1177T
             developing separate processes for maintaining government-owned
             facilities, the Park Service told us that they agreed and are committed to
             implementing a single facilities management process. According to the
             agency, it has developed a plan with an implementation schedule to
             eliminate any duplication or inconsistencies between these two
             components of the organization.

             The Park Service has also made progress in performing its servicewide
             facility condition assessments. According to the Park Service, it has
             completed annual condition assessments—visual inspections—on all but
             nine of the larger parks in the system.6 In addition, the Park Service is
             concurrently performing the more detailed, comprehensive condition
             assessments on other park units. According to the Park Service, the work
             done so far are necessary steps and reflect some of the best practices of
             the private sector in developing and implementing an effective facility
             management process.


             The Park Service has a solemn responsibility to take care of the nation’s
Conclusion   natural, cultural and historic treasures. While it has unfortunately taken
             decades to achieve the current level of focus on maintaining these
             treasures, the Park Service apparently now has made substantive progress
             in developing and implementing a system it can use to determine the
             conditions of the assets in its portfolio and develop accurate and reliable
             estimates of its deferred maintenance needs. However, the agency has not
             yet completed the task. Determining the assets’ conditions and their
             maintenance costs will require years of sustained commitment by the
             agency and by the Congress to ensure that the full benefits of the agency’s
             new facility management process are realized.


             Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be happy to
             respond to any questions that you or Members of the Subcommittee may
             have.




             6
              In order to expedite the condition assessments, the Park Service decided to only complete
             the more comprehensive condition assessments on the nine larger parks. These parks
             include Appalachian Trail, Delaware Water Gap, Gateway, Golden Gate, Grand Canyon,
             Great Smoky Mountains, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. By the end of fiscal
             year 2003, the Park Service will have completed these assessments for five of the nine
             parks with the remaining four to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2004.



             Page 7                                           Park Service Maintenance GAO-03-1177T
                   For further information about this testimony, please contact me at (202)
GAO Contacts and   512- 3841. Cliff Fowler, Roy Judy, and Patrick Sigl made key contributions
Staff              to this statement.
Acknowledgments




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                   Page 8                                  Park Service Maintenance GAO-03-1177T