Recreation Fees:

Management Improvements Can Help the Demonstration Program Enhance Visitor Services

GAO-02-10: Published: Nov 26, 2001. Publicly Released: Dec 11, 2001.

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Congress authorized the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program to help federal land management agencies provide high-quality recreational opportunities to visitors and protect resources. The program focuses on recreational activities at the following four land management agencies: the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Forest Service. Under the fee demonstration program, participating agencies can collect fees at several sites and use them to (1) enhance visitor services, (2) address a backlog of needs for repair and maintenance, and (3) manage and protect resources. The agencies applied "entrance fees" for basic admission to an area and "user fees" for specific activities such as camping or launching a boat. Under the law, 80 percent of program revenue must be used at the site where it was collected. The rest may be distributed to other sites that may or may not be participating in the demonstration program. Some of the sites GAO surveyed experimented with innovative fee designs and collection methods, such as reducing fees during off-peak seasons and allowing visitors to use credit cards, but room for additional innovation exists, particularly in the areas of fee collection and coordination. The agencies also need to make improvement in three program management areas: evaluating their managers' performance in administering the fee program, developing information on which fee-collection and coordination practices work best, and resolving interagency management issues.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, a Recreational Fee Leadership Council was established in March 2002 to facilitate coordination and consistency among land management agencies on recreation fee policies. The Council consists of representatives from the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture. This action should ensure that proper oversight and program coordination takes place among participating agencies. The establishment of this interagency mechanism satisfies this recommendation and, as a result, is considered closed.

    Recommendation: In order to improve the performance and effectiveness of the program, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should require the agency head for each of the participating agencies to develop an effective interagency mechanism to oversee and coordinate the program among the four agencies and resolve such interagency issues as developing standard definitions of "entrance" versus "user" fees. If congressional authorization is needed to accomplish this, then the agencies should seek the necessary legislation.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Actions taken under the Fee Demonstration Program and the recent Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act have satisfied the intent of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: In order to improve the performance and effectiveness of the program, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should require the agency head for each of the participating agencies to develop and implement a process for conducting systematic evaluations of the program to identify which fee designs, collection methods, and coordination practices work best; and to disseminate the information to all participating sites.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NPS has initiated a servicewide audit program and conducted a number of audits at sites. These site audits, combined with the audits of collection costs, are being used to evaluate cost and operational efficiencies and adherence to policy. NPS has also developed an intranet website called "Inside NPS" to post pertinent information about policy matters and best practices. NPS is also establishing a training curriculum for field personnel and has conducted training courses for about 200 participants. In addition, the NPS has updated its Fee Program Guidelines (DO-22) and will be distributing them to field offices as the key resource and policy guideline to ensure best practices and consistency servicewide. Based upon these actions, the recommendation is considered closed and implemented.

    Recommendation: In order to improve the performance and effectiveness of the program, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should require the agency head for each of the participating agencies to develop and implement a process for conducting systematic evaluations of the program to identify which fee designs, collection methods, and coordination practices work best; and to disseminate the information to all participating sites.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Interior has issued policy guidance to field sites requiring (1) the development of recreational fee demonstration program comprehensive plans, (2) accomplishment reports for the use of fee demonstration revenues, and (3) audits of the cost of collection spending. Additional performance goals are being developed to include customer service goals, collection cost targets, and facility condition. Based upon these actions, this recommendation is considered closed and implemented.

    Recommendation: In order to improve the performance and effectiveness of the program, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should require the agency head for each of the participating agencies to develop specific program performance expectations and measurable performance criteria agencywide and for each participating site.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2003, the Forest Service completed "A Blueprint for Forest Service Recreation Fees" that specified goals and principles of the agency's recreational fee program to enhance visitor services and protect resources. Among other features, the Blueprint required that the Forest Service set policy and performance measures for the program and required regional foresters to perform oversight and monitor program implementation. The Forest Service developed draft criteria for program performance expectations and measurable performance criteria agencywide and for individual recreation fee program managers. Based upon these actions, this recommendation is considered closed and implemented.

    Recommendation: In order to improve the performance and effectiveness of the program, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should require the agency head for each of the participating agencies to develop specific program performance expectations and measurable performance criteria agencywide and for each participating site.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, a Recreational Fee Leadership Council was established in March 200, to facilitate coordination and consistency among land management agencies on recreation fee policies. The Council consists of representatives from the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture. This interagency council should provide the needed oversight and ensure coordination of program among the participating agencies.

    Recommendation: In order to improve the performance and effectiveness of the program, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should require the agency head for each of the participating agencies to develop an effective interagency mechanism to oversee and coordinate the program among the four agencies and resolve such interagency issues as developing standard definitions of "entrance" versus "user" fees. If congressional authorization is needed to accomplish this, then the agencies should seek the necessary legislation.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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