National Park Service:

Recreational Fee Demonstration Program Spending Priorities

RCED-00-37R: Published: Nov 18, 1999. Publicly Released: Nov 18, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on whether the National Park Service is using its recreational demonstration program fees to address its highest-priority needs, focusing on: (1) how park spending priorities are identified; (2) whether the spending of program funds is consistent with park priorities; and (3) if the spending of program funds is inconsistent with parks' high-priority needs, why.

GAO noted that: (1) park spending priorities are generally determined by park division managers, such as the heads for maintenance, interpretation, or law enforcement for their respective areas; (2) at the parks GAO visited, there was no consolidated list of parkwide spending priorities; (3) the revenue collected from the fee demonstration program was spent on items that appeared on the respective priority lists of division managers at the four parks GAO visited; (4) however, since the parks GAO reviewed did not have a single list of parkwide priorities, GAO could not assess whether the parks were spending program funds for their highest priority projects; (5) senior officials at each location, including park superintendents, told GAO that revenue from the fee demonstration program is not always spent on the highest priority projects; (6) they told GAO that this occurred primarily because other funding sources are sometimes available for high-priority projects; (7) under such circumstances, park managers attempt to stretch the availability of fee revenue by using these other funding sources where possible; (8) according to these officials, if this approach is not practical, they turn to fee revenue to fund whatever high-priority project they can; (9) overall, several key factors make it difficult to independently assess whether a park's highest-priority projects are being funded with fee demonstration funds; (10) the most significant factor is the absence of a single list of spending priorities for each park; (11) developing such a list for each park would have both pros and cons; (12) it would enable park managers to rank their spending priorities, allowing them and others to track whether their park's highest-priority needs were being addressed; (13) however, for the full benefit of such an approach to be realized, Congress would have to ease a number of spending restrictions it has placed on the parks; (14) this would allow park managers more discretion in deciding where to spend the appropriated funds made available to them, thus giving them more flexibility in addressing park priorities; and (15) such changes, however, would not be consistent with Congress' past desire to help control spending in specific areas of park operations.

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