oversight

National Park Service: Recreational Fee Demonstration Program Spending Priorities

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-11-18.

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

United States General Accounting    Office                                      Resources, Community,      and
Washington,  DC 20548                                                      Economic Development     Division



           J3-284008


           November 18, 1999


           The Honorable James V. Hansen
           Chairman, Subcommittee on
            National Parks and Public bands
           Committee on Resources
           House of Representatives

           Subject: National Park Service: Recreational Fee Demonstration Program Spending Priorities

           Dear Mr. Chairman:

           In 1996, the Congress authorized the recreational fee demonstration program. The
           demonstration period is to run through 2001 and includes the four major federal land
           management agencies-the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and
           the National Park Service (NPS) within the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service
           within the Department of Agriculture. Essentially, the demonstration program is designed to
           get visitors to pay for a greater portion of the operating costs at participating recreation sites
           by charging them increased or new entrance and user fees. At a minimum, 80 percent of the
           revenue from the increased fees is required to stay at the locations where it was generated.
           The additional fee revenue is available for agencies to use in addressing a variety of needs.
           Through fiscal year 1998, the Park Service had collected about $182 million-or       about 83
           percent of the total fees collected by the four agencies.

           Now that the program has been operating for a few years, some Members of Congress and
           others have expressed concern about how the agencies are using the additional money.
           Many of these concerns focus on whether the Park Service is using this additional money to
           address its highest-priority needs. Specifically, you asked us to determine

               l   how park spending priorities are identified;
               l   whether the spending of program funds is consistent with park priorities; and
               l   if the spending of program funds is inconsistent with parks’ high-priority needs, why
                   such conditions exist.

           As agreed with your office, to address these issues we reviewed     the recreational fee
           demonstration program at a sample of four Park Service units. These were Grand Canyon
           National Park, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park,
           and Yellowstone National Park. We selected the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone because you
           had particular concerns about those locations. We selected the other two park units from
           different regional offices to identify any differences in how the fee demonstration program
           was being administered in different geographic locations. Because our work was not based


                                                            GAO/RCED-00-37R    NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
ES-284008


on a statistical sample, the information we obtained for the four park units may not be
representative of all Park Service units. However, the information we gathered provides
useful insights into how the agency is implementing the program.

This letter summarizes our answers to your questions. Enclosure I documents the
information we provided during a briefing with your office on September 28,1999. Enclosure
II provides detailed spending information for each of the four park units included in our
review.

In brief, we found the following:

     l     Park spending priorities are generally determined by park division managers, such as
           the heads for maintenance, interpretation, or law enforcement for their respective
           areas. At the parks we visited, there was no consolidated -list of parkwide spending
           priorities.

     l     The revenue collected from the fee demonstration program was spent on items that
           appeared on the respective priority lists of division managers at the four parks we
           visited. However, since the parks we reviewed did not have a single list of parkwide
           priorities, we could not assess whether the parks were spending program funds for
           their highest priority projects.

     l     Senior officials at each location, including park superintendents, told us that revenue
           from the fee demonstration program is not always spent on the highest priority
           projects. They told us that this occurred primarily because other funding sources are
           sometimes available’ for high-priority projects. Under such circumstances, park
           managers attempt to stretch the availability of fee revenue by using these other
           funding sources where possible. According to these officials, if this approach is not
           practical, they then turn to fee revenue to fund whatever high-priority project they
           CZl.fl.



OveraII, we found that, at the parks we visited, several key factors make it diflicult to
independently assess whether a park’s highest-priority projects are being funded with fee
demonstration funds. The most signifMrnt factor is the absence of a single list of spending
priorities for each park. Developing such a list for each park would have both pros and cons.
On the one hand, it would enable park managers to rank their spending priorities, allowing
them and others to track whether their park’s highest-priori@ needs were being addressed.
On the other hand, for the fulI benefit of such an approach to be realized, the Congress would
have to ease a number of spending restrictions that it has placed on the parks over the years.
Easing these spending restrictions would provide park managers with more discretion in
deciding where to spend the appropriated funds made available to them, giving them more
flexibility in addressing park priorities. Such changes would not, however, be consistent with
the Congress’s past desire to help control spending in specific areas of park operations.

Besides obtaining information at the four parks that we selected, we contacted Park Service
headquarters offices and the three regional offices responsible for the parks we reviewed-
the Intermountain Regional Office, Denver, Colorado; the Midwest Regional Office, Omaha,
Nebraska; and the Pacific West Regional Office, San bcisco,      California We interviewed

‘Project funds, such as maintenance       and repair and rehabilitation     funds, provide funding for various nonrecurring     park needs.
Each fund has different  eligibility criteria, and parks compete        on either a regional or a nationwide  basis for the funds.




2                                                                       GAOIRCED-00-37R            NPS    Recreational       Fee Spending
B-284008


officials and obtained fee demonstration program documents from headquarters, regional,
and park managers at each of these locations.

We provided a draft of this report to the Park Service for its review and comment. The Park
Service generally agreed with the report and provided a number of technical and editorial
comments, which we incorporated as appropriate.

We conducted our review from May 1999 through November 1999 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards.

As agreed with your office, we will make copies of this letter available to others upon
request. If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact me or Cliff
Fowler at (202) 512-3841. Key contributors to this letter include Brian Estes, Cliff Fowler,
and Paul Staley.

Sincerely yours,




F”
Jim Wells
Director, Energy, Resources,
  and Science Issues

Enclosures




3                                               GAOIRCED-OO-37R   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
Enclosure   I




GAO

                Recreational Fee Demonstration     Program
                 Spending Priorities in the National Park
                  Service




4                                     GAO/RCED-00-37R   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
Enclosure I




 GAo          Background

               The Congress was concerned about
               declining recreational opportunities and
               deferred maintenance on federal lands

               In 1996, the Congress authorized the
               recreational fee demonstration program                      (fee
               demo) for four land management agencies:
                l Bureau of Land Management

                l Fish and Wildlife Service
                l Forest Service
               l   National Park Sewice (NPS)




                                  GAO/WED-00-37B   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
Enclosure I




GAo           Background           (cont.)


              l   Key program characteristics:

                  l   Provided for new or increased                   fees for
                      recreation on federal lands

                  l   Required at least 80 percent of fee
                      revenues to be spent at the collecting sites

                  l   Authorized     up to 100 sites per agency




                                             GAO/WED-00-37R   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
Enclosure I




 @lo          Background      (cont.)


              l   Fee demo funds may be used for deferred
                  repair and maintenance; en hancements to
                  interpretation, signage, habitats, and
                  facilities; resource preservation; and law
                  enforcement

              l   Fee demo funds may not to be used for
                  permanent staff, housing, or administrative
                  buildings




                                        GAO/RCED-00-37R NPS Recreational Fee Spending
Enclosure   I




   GA0          Background      (cont.)

                l   Interior and NPS determined that fee demo
                    projects should address health/safety issues

                l   Permanent structures costing over $500,000
                    must be approved by House and Senate
                    Appropriations Committees

                l   Agencies have until Sept. 30,2004,                     to use
                    fee demo revenues




                                          GAOIRCED-00-37R   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
Enclosure   I




    GAo         Background (cont.)

                l   Fee demo revenues:

                    l   Through fiscal year 1998, the four
                        agencies had collected about $219.6
                        million (see note)

                    l   NPS had collected         about 83 percent of the
                        total
                    Note: Totals were available for all four agencies only
                      through fiscal year 1998




9                                           GAO/WED-00-37B   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
Enclosure   I




@lo             Background (cont.)


                l   Fee demo expenditures:

                    l   Through fiscal year 1998, the four
                        agencies had spent about $76 million
                         (see note)

                    l   NPS had spent about 68 percent of the
                        total

                    Note: Totals were available for all four agencies only
                     through fiscal year 1998




10                                           GAO/RCED-00-37R NPS Recreational Fee Spending
Enclosure I




GAo           Objectives


              Because of concerns      about NPS; you asked
               us to review

              l   how park spending    priorities are identified;

              l   whether spending of fee demo funds is
                  consistent with park priorities; and

              l   if spending is inconsistent with parks’ high-
                  priority needs, why such conditions exist




                                      GAO/WED-00-37B   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
Enclosure I




GAo           Scope and Methodology


              l   Contacted NPS officials at headquarters and
                  three regional off ices: Intermountain
                  (Denver, CO), Midwest (Omaha, NE), and
                  Pacific West (San Francisco, CA)

              l   Visited four parks: Grand Canyon NP,
                  Jefferson National Expansion Memorial,
                  Sequoia-Kings Canyon NP, Yellowstone NP




12                                  GAO/RCED-0037R   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
Enclosure   I




GAo             Scope and Methodology (cont.)


                Parks were selected for visits because

                l   they were located in different regions and

                l   the Chairman had concerns about spending
                    priorities at two of them--Grand Canyon NP
                    and Yellowstone NP




13                                     GAO/WED-00-3’7B NPS Recreational Fee Spending
Enclosure I




GAo           Objective 1: How are park spending
              priorities identified?
              Park division managers identify spending
               priorities for their respective areas (e.g.,
               maintenance, interpretation,    law
               enforcement, and others)

                l   No single list consolidates the spending
                    priorities of various division managers

                l   Hence, decisions on spending priorities
                    are made among competing demands                            of
                    operating divisions within a park




                                     GAO/RCED-00-37R   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
14
Enclosure I




GA0           Objective 1: (cont.)

              At the four parks, division managers’ spending
                priority decisions are reviewed/approved  by
                senior park managers, including the
                superintendent




                                     GAOLWED-00-37B   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
Enclosure I




GAo           Objective 2: Is the spending of fee demo
              funds consistent with park priorities?

              At the four parks we reviewed

                l   Fee demo expenditures     for fiscal years
                    1997-99    were consistent with the needs
                    of park division managers

                l   These expenditures were also consistent
                    with law and Interior and NPS criteria

                l   Since parks have no overall priority list, we
                    could not assess whether spending was
                    for their highest-priority       needs




16                                       GAO/RCED-00-37R NPS Recreational Fee Spending
Enclosure   I




GAo             Objective     2: (cont.)


                At the four parks, funds were largely spent for

                  l   road and trail maintenance,

                  l   campground/restroom              renovation,

                  l   natural resource management,

                  l   visitor services and facilities, and

                  l   fee collection activities




17                                         GAO/WED-00-37R   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
Enclosure I




GAo           Objective 2 (cont.)

              Fee Demo at Grand Canyon NP:

              l   Total revenues for fiscal years 1997-99:
                  $42.1 million
              l   Total expenditures for fiscal years 1997-99:
                  $14 million
              l   Expenditure categories: visitor
                  transportation, fee collection infrastructure,
                  trails, natural resources, curatorial research

              (See enc. II for details)




                                      GAO/RCED-OO-37R   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
18
Enclosure I




GAo           Objective 2 (cont.)

              Fee Demo at Jefferson National Expansion
               Memorial (Gateway Arch):

              l   Total revenues for fiscal years 1998-99:
                  $3.9 million
              l   Total expenditures for fiscal years 1998-99:
                  $0.9 million
              l   Expenditure categories: theater operations

              (See enc. II for details)




                                     GAO/WED-00-37B   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
19
Enclosure   I




GAo             Objective 2 (cont.)

                Fee Demo at Sequoia-Kings               Canyon NP:

                 Total revenues for fiscal years 1997-99:
                 $5.1 million
                 Total expenditures for fiscal years 1997-99:
                 $0.8 million
                 Expenditure categories: trails, roads and
                 parking, campground restoration, wilderness
                 education program

                (See enc. II for details)




20                                      GAO/WED-OOS7B    NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
Enclosure I




GAo           Objective 2 (cont.)


              Fee Demo at Yellowstone            NP:

              l   Total revenues for fiscal years 1997-99:
                  $13.0 million
              l   Total expenditures for fiscal years 1997-99:
                  $6.2 million
              l   Expenditure categories: roads, trails,
                  water/wastewater systems, campgrounds,
                  natural resource management

              (See enc. II for details)




                                     GAO/WED-00-37R    NPS Recreational   Fee Speding
21
Enclosure I




GAo           Objective 3: Are there differences between
              spending and high-priority needs?
               Park officials told us why fee demo funds are
               not always spent on the highest-priority
               projects
                l   Some high-priority projects receive funding
                    from other sources
                     l Other    funding sources include, for
                       example, funds for maintenance and
                       repair/rehabilitation
                     l These     funds were established by the
                       Congress and have varying eligibility
                       criteria




22                                   GAO/WED-00-37R   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
Enclosure I




GAo           Objective 3: (cont.)

                    l   Each park division has high-priority
                        needs that compete for these funds

                l   Park divisions may differ over what
                    constitutes a high-priority project

                l   Use of fee demo funds for a project may
                    depend on how likely it is that the project
                    will receive funding from other sources




23                                     GAO/RCED-OO-37B   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
Enclosure I




&lo           Objective 3: (cont.)

                l   Generally, fee demo funds are used for
                    high-priority projects that are not likely to
                    receive other funding

                l   For example, Sequoia-Kings Canyon NP
                    plans to use $268,000 in repair/rehab
                    funds to repair a septic tank and aging
                    pipes that threaten nearby streams

                l   While this is a high-priority project, fee
                    demo funds are not being used for it




                                       GAO/RCED-00-37B   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
24
Enclosure I




GAo           Objective 3: (cont.)

                l   Similarly, Jefferson National Expansion
                    Memorial repaired deteriorated sidewalks
                    and concrete stairs with $101,000 in
                    maintenance funds

                l   Again, this was a high-priority item, but fee
                    demo funds were not used for it




25                                   GAO/WED-00-37RNPSRecreationalFeeSpending
Enclosure I




GAo           Overall observations

              A variety of factors make it difficult to assess
                whether the highest-priority projects are
                being funded with fee demo funds

                l   There is no single list of spending priorities
                    for each park
                l   Park divisions have lists of spending
                    priorities that compete with each other
                l   Having multiple project funding sources
                    may make fee demo funds available for
                    some lower-priority projects




26                                    GAO/WED-00-37R   NPS Recreational   Fee Spending
Enclosure   I




GA0             Overall observations         (cont.)


                Establishing a single list of priorities for each
                 park has pros and cons

                  l   Pros:

                      l   Easier to track highest-priority            needs of
                          each park

                      l   Easier to determine if these highest-
                          priority needs are being addressed




27                                        GAO/WED-00-37R NPS Becreational Fee Spending
Enclosure I




GAo           Overall observations      (cont.)


                l   Cons:

                    l   For maximum effectiveness, changes to
                        NPS’ current funding procedures would
                        be needed to give park managers more
                        flexibility in spending park funds

                    l   Such changes might not be desirable
                        because they would diminish
                        departmental and congressional control
                        over spending




28                                    GAO/WED-OO-37B NFS Recreational Fee Spending
 Enclosure II


                                                 Recreational               Fee Demonstration    Revenues  and
                             Project             ExDenditures                at Four Park Units. Fiscal Years 1997-99




1Repair utility systems                                                                             I                             I-                        404,820j
 Rehabilitate amphitheaters                                                                                                                                 289,800
 Rehabilitate public restrooms                                                                                                                              267,400
 Other                                                                                                                                                    1,171,400
 Total                                                                                                               $13,016,4606                       $6,166,620

‘Includes      the 80 percent       of fee demo        revenues        required   to remain     at the collecting     unit, less the costs   of collection.

“Does not include         expenditures from the 20-percent portion of fee demo revenues                              or from Golden     Eagle    revenues.       Also does    not
include the costs         of collection.

‘Includes      revenues     only fmm       fii      years   1998 and 1999; unit did not participate                 in the fee demo    program     in fiscal   year   1997.

“Does       not include   funds    paid annually        to Gardiner,       Montana,    school     district.




(141325)


29                                                                                                 GAO/RCED-00-37R               NPS Recreational               Fee Spending
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