National Park Service:

Reexamination of Employee Housing Program Is Needed

RCED-94-284: Published: Aug 30, 1994. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 1994.

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James E. Wells, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Park Service's employee housing program, focusing on: (1) how its program compares with the Forest Service's and Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) employee housing programs; and (2) the options that are available to the Park Service to reduce its housing inventory and better address its housing needs.

GAO found that: (1) the Park Service provides a wide variety of in-park housing to many of its employees because it believes that this housing is vital to providing in-park visitor services; (2) the Forest Service and BLM have significantly less employee housing than the Park Service because they do not focus on providing visitor services and have different approaches to providing employee housing; (3) the Park Service's maintenance costs are significantly higher because most of its housing units are historic in nature and single-family or multiplex units; (4) the repair, rehabilitation, and replacement costs for Park Service housing units are about 3 times higher than for the Forest Service or BLM; (5) although the Park Service has requested $30 million to upgrade its housing inventory in fiscal year 1995, the Forest Service has requested only $1 million in maintenance costs and BLM does not plan to upgrade its housing inventory; (6) it is unlikely that the Park Service will receive the funding it has requested to stop further deterioration of its housing inventory because of federal budgetary constraints; and (7) the Park Service needs to explore options to reduce its housing inventory by reexamining its housing requirements, disposing of the housing units that cannot be adequately justified, and attempting to move some of its employees into local housing markets.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In accordance with the recommendations and subsequently with Public Law 104-333, the Park Service has assessed its employee housing needs. The agency hired two contractors to conduct assessments at parks that provided employee housing. The contractors completed their analysis in 1998, and reported that the parks had more housing than could be justified. However, in March 1999 the agency indicated that it was not implementing the findings of the contracted assessment and instead felt that much more housing was needed. Debate continues to exist within the Park Service on the Park's Service housing policy; specifically, in which categories should the housing policy allow housing to be provided to park employees and volunteers. Because it appears that no action will be taken to implement this recommendation in the near future, we are closing the recommendation.

    Recommendation: In order to better define its housing needs and identify opportunities for reducing its inventory, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to conduct a park-by-park review of housing needs to determine whether its current housing inventory at each location is needed and justified.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency's major effort to address this recommendation has been working with Congress to pass legislation that gives the Park Service authority to enter into alternative arrangements with developers or others for the provision of employee housing. However, while the agency obtained authority to enter into alternative arrangements to in-park housing, it has not yet done so. Furthermore, there are no plans to explore alternative opportunities until after the housing needs and conditions assessments are completed.

    Recommendation: In order to obtain nonfederal funds to help the Park Service meet its housing needs and in addition to those alternative arrangements being explored by the Chief of Staff, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the Park Service to: (1) review the housing alternatives GAO identified from employee housing studies; (2) weigh and compare their respective costs and benefits; (3) develop a strategy for implementing the alternatives that it considers most effective; and (4) present the strategy to its legislative and appropriations committees in Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior


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