National Park Service:

Process Exists for Prioritizing Asset Maintenance Decisions, but Evaluation Could Improve Efforts

GAO-17-136: Published: Dec 13, 2016. Publicly Released: Jan 12, 2017.

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Anne-Marie Fennell
(202) 512-3841
fennella@gao.gov

 

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At the end of fiscal year 2015, the National Park Service reported $11.9 billion in deferred maintenance—that is, the estimated costs of asset maintenance or repairs that the agency has postponed for more than a year and has not yet resolved.

To address its maintenance needs, the agency has determined that its highest priority assets—assets that are critical to the operation of parks—should be considered first for funding to keep them in good condition.

The agency has not yet evaluated this approach and does not have plans underway to do so. We recommend that the Park Service evaluate whether this approach is working or if changes are needed.

Dollar Amount of National Park Service’s $11.9 Billion in Deferred Maintenance and Number of Assets by Asset Category, Fiscal Year 2015

 

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Anne-Marie Fennell
(202) 512-3841
fennella@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

In fiscal years 2006 through 2015, the Department of the Interior's National Park Service (Park Service) allocated, on average, $1.16 billion annually to maintain assets. In fiscal year 2015, allocations to maintenance accounted for about one-third (or $1.08 billion) of the agency's total funding of $3.3 billion. The largest portion of maintenance funds in fiscal year 2015 was allocated to facility operations, which includes maintenance that is routine in nature, such as maintenance of trails.

The Park Service's deferred maintenance—maintenance of its assets that was not performed when it should have been and is delayed for a future period—averaged $11.3 billion from fiscal years 2009 through 2015. Bridges, tunnels, and paved roadways consistently made up the largest share of the agency's deferred maintenance, accounting for half of all deferred maintenance in fiscal year 2015. Older park units have the most deferred maintenance, with $10.5 billion in fiscal year 2015 in park units established more than 40 years ago.

National Park Service's Deferred Maintenance by Age of Park Unit in Fiscal Year 2015

National Park Service's Deferred Maintenance by Age of Park Unit in Fiscal Year 2015

The Park Service uses several tools to determine an asset's importance and condition and assign maintenance priority. Park unit staff assess the condition of the asset and identify maintenance projects. Once identified, park unit staff use the agency's Capital Investment Strategy to evaluate and rank projects. Projects score higher if they target critical assets with deferred maintenance. Fiscal year 2015 was the first budget year in which projects ranked using the strategy were funded, and regional and park unit officials said that it is too soon to determine if the strategy is meeting its objectives, such as maintaining the condition of its most important assets. However, the Park Service does not have a plan or timeframe for evaluating whether the strategy has been successful. A senior official said that the agency has not determined what is needed to begin such an evaluation and that it would be beneficial to verify that the Capital Investment Strategy is achieving intended outcomes. According to the National Academies Federal Facilities Council, it is important that agencies track the outcome of investments to improve decision making and asset management. Evaluating the strategy may help the Park Service determine if the strategy is achieving intended outcomes or if changes need to be made.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Park Service manages more than 75,000 assets, including buildings, roads, and water systems, at 413 park units across all 50 states. In 2015, the agency estimated that its deferred maintenance on these assets was $11.9 billion.

GAO was asked to review how the Park Service manages its maintenance needs. This report examines, among other things, (1) agency allocations to maintain assets in fiscal years 2006 through 2015, (2) the amount and composition of the agency's deferred maintenance in fiscal years 2009 through 2015, and (3) how the agency makes maintenance decisions. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed Park Service allocation data for fiscal years 2006 through 2015 and deferred maintenance data in fiscal years 2009 (first year data for all assets was available) through 2015 (most current data available); reviewed planning and guidance documents and compared the process for making asset management decisions to guidance developed by the National Academies, among others; and interviewed Park Service officials at headquarters, all seven regions, and 21 park units selected to include those with large and small amounts of deferred maintenance, among other things. This sample is not generalizable to all park units.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that the Park Service evaluate the Capital Investment Strategy and results to assess whether it has achieved its intended outcomes. The Department of the Interior agreed with GAO's recommendation.

For more information, contact Anne-Marie Fennell at (202) 512-3841 or fennella@gao.gov

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In its March 22, 2017 update, the Department of the Interior stated that they concur with this recommendation and will assign responsibility for developing and implementing corrective actions to the new Director of NPS upon his or her confirmation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the elements of the agency's process for making asset maintenance decisions are achieving desired outcomes, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the Park Service to evaluate the Capital Investment Strategy and its results to determine if it is achieving its intended outcomes or if changes need to be made.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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