Chesapeake Bay Gateways Program:

National Park Service Needs Better Accountability and Oversight of Grantees and Gateways

GAO-06-1049: Published: Sep 14, 2006. Publicly Released: Sep 14, 2006.

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In 1998, Congress passed the Chesapeake Bay Initiative Act to establish a linked network of locations, such as parks, historic seaports, or museums--known as gateways--where the public can access and experience the bay. The National Park Service (Park Service) provides support to the gateways through a related grant program. In 2005, congressional concerns were raised about the Park Service's management of the program. GAO was asked to determine the extent to which the (1) criteria for selecting gateways are transparent and consistently applied; (2) grants have been awarded to support the program goals of conserving and restoring, interpreting, and accessing bay-related resources; and (3) Park Service has taken action to improve program management and oversight. To conduct this work, GAO, among other things, examined Park Service files and interviewed Park Service officials, as well as other officials involved in the program.

The Park Service and the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network (CBGN) working group--an advisory body of 17 bay-related agencies and organizations, including the Park Service--use criteria in selecting gateways for the network that are not always transparent and may not be consistently applied. As a result, the Park Service cannot be assured that its process for selecting gateways is always fair and open. Regarding transparency, applicants are not always aware of all the criteria that the Park Service and the CBGN working group use to select gateways because not all the criteria are published. The Park Service and CBGN working group also may not be consistently applying the criteria used to select gateways. For example, some applicants were denied gateway status although they had met all the selection criteria included in the checklist the Park Service uses to review gateway applications, while others were approved although they did not meet all these criteria. The Park Service awarded almost all of its fiscal years 2000 through 2005 grants, totaling $6.28 million, to support the grant program goals of interpretation of and access to bay-related resources but does not yet have a process in place to evaluate whether grants are effectively meeting these program goals, as well as the other program goal of conservation and restoration. During this period, the Park Service awarded 189 grants: 117 for interpretation, 68 for access, and 4 for conservation and restoration. Of the 189 grants, 110 went to 39 gateways that received more than 1 grant for either interpretation or access, with several gateways receiving up to 4 grants for interpretation. According to Park Service staff, several grantees, and GAO's analysis, these grants are for distinct projects or phases of larger projects. Although the Park Service records the program goal(s) associated with each grant project, it does not yet have a process in place to determine the effectiveness of its grants in meeting these goals. The Park Service has a strategic plan that describes program priorities and effectiveness measures, but GAO found several weaknesses in the plan. The Park Service has made progress in outlining and implementing a number of actions to respond to management and oversight concerns first identified in February 2005, but accountability and oversight weaknesses continue. In March 2005, the Park Service developed an action plan that outlined 27 corrective actions and associated time frames to improve program management. The Park Service has implemented 16 of these actions--such as holding a financial management workshop for new grantees and contracting for an external audit of 10 percent of past grants to determine compliance with financial requirements--but 11 actions, mostly to improve oversight, have not been fully implemented. In addition, the following management problems remain: inadequate training, lack of timely grantee reporting, inappropriate grant awards to applicants with incomplete projects or lack of capacity to complete projects on time, a backlog of uncompleted grants, and underperforming gateways.

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

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To enhance accountability and oversight, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the Park Service to have the Director of the CBGN ensure that grants are awarded only to applicants who completed grants or to applicants who have demonstrated the capacity for completing a new grant on schedule.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO found that the National Park Service had inappropriately awarded Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network grants to applicants with incomplete projects or a lack of capacity to complete grant projects on time. Accordingly, in a September 2006 report, GAO recommended that the Park Service ensure that grants are awarded only to applicants who completed previous grants or to applicants who have demonstrated the capacity for completing a new grant on schedule. In response to the concerns we raised to the Park Service about these inappropriate awards during the course of our audit work, and in line with our recommendation, the Park Service modified its procedures for reviewing and vetting grant proposals to ensure that grants are awarded only to those applicants that are in compliance with the schedules for any incomplete grants. Specifically, the Park Service added a follow-up step to its process, during which Park Service staff further questioned grant applicants to ensure that the deliverables and budget information were clear and achievable. The Park Service used these revised procedures, to review, vet, and document all 2006 grant proposals to ensure clear achievable scopes of work, credible budgets, and the capacity of the grantee to accomplish the work in 18 months. The follow-up work conducted by the Park Service to ensure appropriate grant awards was conducted for grants awarded in August 2006.

    Recommendation: To enhance accountability and oversight, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the Park Service to have the Director of the CBGN ensure that CBGN staff responsible for grant management are adequately trained.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO found that the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network project coordinators, who are responsible for reviewing grant proposals and monitoring the progress of grant projects, were inadequately trained in grant management. As a result, in a September 2006 report, GAO recommended that the National Park Service ensure that Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network staff responsible for grant management are adequately trained. In response to our recommendation, the Park Service sent all of its Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network staff to an Environmental Protection Agency-led training on Grants Administration.

    Recommendation: To enhance accountability and oversight, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the Park Service to have the Director of the CBGN develop and implement a process to determine the extent to which grants are effectively meeting program goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO found that the National Park Service did not have a process in place to determine the effectiveness of its grants in meeting program goals for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network and its related grant program. Accordingly, in a September 2006 report, GAO recommended that the Park Service develop and implement a process to determine the extent to which grants are effectively meeting program goals. Based upon this recommendation, beginning in October 2006, the Park Service and the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network working group (1) outlined a process for beginning to evaluate the effectiveness of the network in meeting program goals, (2) conducted a quantitative evaluation of the program drawing on several sources, in particular, data provided by the grantees in relation to all of the grant products and summarized the results in a March 2007 written report, (3) initiated a follow-up Grant Data Collection Survey of Gateways requesting additional information on grant outcomes and measurables, and (4) incorporated into its 2006 grant agreements and committed to incorporating into its 2007 grant agreements, the requirement that 2006 and 2007 grantees collect and provide data on outcomes and measurables that result from the CBGN grants.

    Recommendation: To enhance accountability and oversight, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the Park Service to have the Director of the CBGN develop procedures for resolving identified problems and, where appropriate, removing underperforming gateways from the network.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO found that the National Park Service has approved gateways--public access and interpretive locations, such as state or federal parks and historic seaports, linked to create the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network--that did not meet all the selection criteria for entry into the network. As a result, in a September 2006 report, GAO recommended that the Park Service develop procedures for resolving identified problems and, where appropriate, removing under-performing gateways from the network. Based on this recommendation, the Park Service, in conjunction with the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network working group, outlined a procedure for review of all gateways to ensure that they are meeting the requirements laid out in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that gateways sign upon entering the Network. The Park Service also developed procedures for resolving problems identified as a result of these reviews. The review and resolution processes have been documented in a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) effective May 31, 2007. If a determination is made that a gateway no longer meets the commitments laid out in the MOU, the Park Service will remove the gateway from the network by the procedures laid out in the SOP. In November 2006, the Park Service terminated its MOU with one gateway as a result of this new review process.

    Recommendation: To enhance accountability and oversight, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the Park Service to have the Director of the CBGN periodically review gateways to determine whether they are meeting the basic requirements for network membership.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO found that the National Park Service approved gateways--public access and interpretive locations, such as state or federal parks and historic seaports, linked to create the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network--that did not meet all the selection criteria for entry into the network. As a result, in a September 2006 report, GAO recommended that the Park Service periodically review gateways to determine whether they are meeting the basic requirements for network membership. Based on this recommendation, the Park Service, in conjunction with the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network working group, outlined a procedure for review of all gateways to ensure that they are meeting the requirements laid out in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that gateways sign upon entering the Network. The Park Service initiated some gateway reviews in October 2006 to test this new process. The results of this review process has been documented and codified in a Standard Operating Procedure effective May 31, 2007. The Park Service plans to review approximately one-third of all gateways in the network each year, ensuring that each gateway is reviewed every three years. MOUs for new gateways will be renewed every three years to coincide with the review cycle.

    Recommendation: To enhance accountability and oversight, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the Park Service to have the Director of the CBGN take steps to make all criteria used to select gateways publicly available and then consistently apply them.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO found that the National Park Service used criteria to select gateways--public access and interpretive locations, such as state or federal parks and historic seaports, linked to create the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network--for entry into the Network that were not always transparent and may not have been consistently applied. As a result, in a September 2006 report, GAO recommended that the Park Service take steps to make all criteria used to select gateways publicly available and then consistently apply these criteria. Based on this recommendation, the Park Service conducted a review and, in consultation with the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network working group, updated these criteria and posted them to the publicly available Gateways Website. In the future, the Park Service intends to post any additional revisions or clarifications to the criteria on the Website. To ensure consistency, the Park Service applied these updated criteria to the four most recent Gateways nominees and plans to consistently apply them to future nominations.

    Recommendation: To enhance accountability and oversight, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the Park Service to have the Director of the CBGN ensure that grantees submit progress and financial reports in a timely manner.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO found that the National Park Service was not stringently enforcing its quarterly grantee reporting requirements for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network grant program, despite a commitment in its action plan to do so. We found that, approximately 2 months after the reports were due, only 8 of the 27 files for grants awarded in fiscal year 2005 contained the complete quarterly report for the period we reviewed. As a result, GAO recommended that the Park Service ensure that grantees submit progress and financial reports in a timely manner. In response to our recommendation, the Park Service revised its operating procedures for awarding grants to emphasize the requirement for grantees to submit accurate and timely progress and financial reports. Furthermore, the Park Service will not reimburse grantees for their expenditures unless required reports are current. Data provided by the Park Service showed that all 2006 grantees had submitted their quarterly reports for the first reporting period in a timely manner.

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