Natural Resources and Environment:

Better Management of National Park Concessions Can Improve Services Provided to the Public

CED-80-102: Published: Jul 31, 1980. Publicly Released: Aug 15, 1980.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the management of concession operations by the National Park Service (NPS).

GAO found that concessioner performance evaluation would be more effective if visitors' opinions and comments were used in appraising concessioner performance. Existing concessioners already have a competitive advantage over others who want to operate in the parks, they do not need additional legal advantages. By using single concessioners to provide the services in a park, NPS has limited its options for requiring improvement without seriously disrupting service to the public. As a result, NPS does not take necessary corrective actions. GAO also found that concession rates are not always studied, justified, or documented before approval, and the quality of facilities is given little or no consideration in approving the rates.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Congress should amend the Concessions Policy Act to allow possessory interest only in those instances where no other alternative is available and, then, only under the following conditions: (1) possessory interest should be valued by the government at no more than the original cost to construct or improve the facility less amortization over a period no longer than the estimated useful life of the facility or the term of the contract, whichever is shorter; and (2) if the contract is terminated by NPS or the concessioner and the facility has not been fully amortized.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: While no congressional action has been taken in 6 years on the Concessions Policy Act, an amendment to an appropriations bill has permitted the use of book value compensation, instead of fair market value, to concessioners terminated for unsatisfactory services.

    Matter: Congress should eliminate preferential rights for new and additional services.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No congressional action has been taken in 6 years.

    Matter: Congress should amend the Concessions Policy Act of 1965 to eliminate the right of preference for contract renewal.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No congressional action has been taken in 6 years.

    Matter: Congress should finance construction of needed facilities to accommodate park visitors whenever possible.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress passed the National Park Visitor Facility Fund Act, P.L. 97-433, on January 8, 1983.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to ensure that evaluation inspections and follow-ups, required by the Concessioner Evaluation Program, are carried out and provide additional staff where necessary. When an effective system of obtaining and considering visitor comments has been established, consideration should be given to reducing the number of inspections now required.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NPS issued a revised directive on the Concessioner Evaluation Program, but it did not address obtaining visitor comments.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to ensure that: (1) all required health and safety inspections are conducted in a timely manner; and (2) follow-ups are made to ensure that deficiencies have been corrected.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to take action to ensure that park visitors, NPS, and concession employees are adequately protected against health and safety deficiencies at concession operations. Contracts of concessioners that habitually violate health and safety standards should be terminated. The policy for terminating concession contracts under such circumstances should be incorporated into NPS regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to emphasize to the field offices the need to adequately document action taken on requests for convention and group use of concession facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation was incorporated in a NPS directive, NPS-48, issued in June 1984.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, NPS, to provide adequate training for its personnel responsible for implementing concessioner rate approval procedures.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to develop a training program to instruct NPS personnel to implement the Concessioner Evaluation Program effectively.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to see that NPS safety personnel receive the training necessary to identify safety deficiencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to require that comprehensive annual safety inspections be conducted early in the operating season so that visitors and employees are not exposed to deficiencies during most of the operating season.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to conduct annual health inspections on concession facilities that continually operate under unsanitary conditions and post the inspection results at the facility so that visitors can be aware of its condition. If these measures do not improve conditions, the concessioner's contract or permit should be terminated.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to ensure that a qualified sanitarian is available to conduct required health inspections at concession facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to establish a firm policy to permit concessioners to participate in NPS planning processes only during the public participation phase.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation was implemented as part of a NPS directive, NPS-48.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to take steps to ensure that the field offices follow NPS Environmental Assessments and Statements Guideline, NPS-12. Also, the impacts of proposed actions should be assessed before approving projects that could affect the parks' environment.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NPS officials believe that they have accomplished what GAO recommended.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to develop and publish in the Federal Register standards for evaluating satisfactory business experience and financial position of parties interested in operating a concession in the national parks.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NPS directive, NPS-48, issued in June 1984, states that NPS should review prospective concessioners' management qualifications and financial statements, but it did not establish any criteria to use when performing these reviews.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to require concessioners to notify NPS when they no longer want to operate in the park and want to transfer their operation to a third party. NPS should then issue a prospectus to solicit parties interested in taking over the operation. In addition to the normal distribution, NPS should also send the prospectus to parties identified by the concessioner. Interested parties should send their proposals and qualifications to NPS. NPS should then determine the parties best qualified and give their names to the concessioner so that it can negotiate the transfer.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NPS officials do not agree with this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to take steps necessary to supply the concessions management field staff with individuals that have the financial background and experience needed to set equitable franchise fee rates and deal effectively with the other areas of concessions contracts.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NPS has not instituted any formal changes to personnel qualification requirements, but it believes that current personnel have improved financial backgrounds.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to develop specific criteria and procedures to help concessions management staff make appropriate adjustments to franchise fee rates, if the new ratesetting system allows adjustments to rates based on pertinent economic factors.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Procedures for the new NPS frameline fee system, which became effective December 31, 1986, were incorporated into its Concessions Guidelines Manual, NPS-48.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to develop a new franchise fee rate system that reflects the value of privileges granted under concession contracts. The new system should be: (1) easily understood with a minimum amount of subjective analysis required so that NPS concession personnel may apply it properly; (2) thoroughly supported and documented; and (3) reviewed periodically to determine if changes are needed.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NPS sent its proposed procedures for setting concessioner franchise fees out for comment in August 1985. Comments due October 7, 1985, were reviewed and NPS issued a notice that the August 1985 procedures would remain in effect until others are developed. New NPS procedures were published in the Federal Register on December 31, 1986.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, NPS, to expand the responsibilities of the task force established to develop alternatives to resolve problems NPS has identified with concessioner comparability studies. The task force should be instructed to evaluate the new approval procedures more comprehensively. The task force study should examine the problems GAO identified and solicit the views of NPS field offices that have used the new procedures.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, NPS, to develop and implement, as part of the Concessioner Evaluation Program, procedures to obtain visitor comments and opinions on the quality of concession facilities and services. Comments should be considered in determining if concessioners are performing satisfactorily.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NPS issued a revised directive concerning the Concessioner Evaluation Program, but it did not address visitor comments.

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