National Park Service:

Opportunities Exist to Clarify and Strengthen Special Uses Permit Guidance on Setting Grazing Fees and Cost-Recovery

GAO-06-355R: Published: Feb 9, 2006. Publicly Released: Feb 9, 2006.

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In our September 2005 report, Livestock Grazing: Federal Expenditures and Receipts Vary, Depending on the Agency and the Purpose of the Fee Charged, we reported that the National Park Service (Park Service) allowed livestock grazing on nearly 1.6 million acres at 31 park units. To manage grazing on their lands, the park units spent at least $410,000 in fiscal year 2004, which included activities such as fence maintenance, personnel, and monitoring resource conditions; they also collected about $196,000 in receipts from ranchers for the privilege of grazing livestock on Park Service lands. In fiscal year 2004, the park units retained about $192,000, or 98 percent, of the receipts collected. During the course of our work, we found that the park units were not consistently implementing the Park Service's special uses permit guidance for fee-setting and cost-recovery. This letter presents the results of our further evaluation of the park units' efforts to manage grazing permits on their lands and makes recommendations to strengthen the Park Service's guidance for setting fees, recovering costs, and retaining funds. This letter discusses (1) the fees that park units charge for grazing permits and (2) reporting and retaining of cost-recovery amounts from grazing permits.

The park units use different approaches when setting grazing fees. Although the Park Service's special uses permit guidance directs park units to charge grazing fees based on two amounts--a land and facility fee plus an amount to recover costs--we found that none of the 31 park units appeared to have followed the Park Service's guidance. Some of the park units have not implemented the guidance on setting grazing fees, in part because they believe that the guidance calls for a fee that is higher than market value and that such a fee would discourage grazing. The Park Service is reviewing its guidance and the fee that it should charge. In reviewing Park Service guidance, we identified questions about the Park Service's fee structure, which we have raised with the Solicitor's Office of the Department of the Interior. For this reason, we are recommending that the Park Service revise its guidance to reflect the resolution we reached with the Solicitor's Office regarding the authority for the Park Service's fee structure. Many of the park units are retaining receipts in excess of what they reported as cost-recovery amounts for managing the grazing program. For example, officials at Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site in Pennsylvania indicated that each location deposited $1,350 in grazing fees for use by the park unit; however, both park units reported no cost-recovery amounts and no expenditures for grazing permits. If park units do not calculate and document cost-recovery amounts, the Park Service cannot ensure that they are only retaining the funds they are authorized to retain. As a result, we are recommending that the Park Service develop strategies to better ensure that the park units calculate and document cost-recovery amounts.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO's General Counsel issued a decision on Special Park Use Fees on August 23, 2007 (B-307319). The National Park Service Special Use Program Manager incorporated the decision into second-level guidance--the Director's Order--for the program and has incorporated changes from the Federal Register notice into the document. The Director's Order was approved by the Director of the National Park Service in February 2010.

    Recommendation: As the Park Service revises its guidance on fees for special uses permits, it should ensure that the guidance reflects the resolution we reached with the Solicitor's Office regarding the authority for the Park Service's fee structure.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior: National Park Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Park Service Special Use Program is holding several training sessions per year for special use management and fees. According to the Special Use Program Manager, the new training will incorporate the GAO decision on grazing fees.

    Recommendation: The Park Service should develop strategies to better ensure that the park units calculate and document cost-recovery amounts.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior: National Park Service

 

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