Recreation Fees:

Demonstration Has Increased Revenues, but Impact on Park Service Backlog Is Uncertain

T-RCED-99-101: Published: Mar 3, 1999. Publicly Released: Mar 3, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the National Park Service's Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, focusing on the: (1) rate at which the Park Service spends revenue collected under the program in comparison with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Forest Service; and (2) impact of the fee program on the Park Service's maintenance needs.

GAO noted that: (1) the overall message about the demonstration program is positive; (2) the program is providing hundreds of millions of dollars to improve visitor services and address the backlogs of unmet needs in the four land management agencies; (3) in addition, those who pay the fees generally support the program, and it has not appeared to have adversely affected visitation rates; (4) nonetheless, it is appropriate to focus on several areas in which changes or improvements may be needed; (5) specifically, these issues include the need for greater coordination of fees by the agencies, greater innovation, and flexibility in revenue distribution; (6) these issues are important because the demonstration program is still at a stage where experimentation is encouraged; (7) most of GAO's observations relate to doing just that--experimenting more to determine what works best; (8) regarding the Park Service, GAO found that the agency's spending of demonstration program revenue has lagged substantially behind the other three agencies in the first 2 years of the program; (9) this has been due primarily to the larger number and scale of Park Service projects and additional scrutiny these projects are receiving within the agency and the Department of the Interior; (10) further, the Park Service has not yet developed accurate and reliable information on its total deferred maintenance needs; and (11) until this is done, determining the impact that the revenue from the fee program is having on these needs is not possible.

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