National Park Service:

Efforts to Identify and Manage the Maintenance Backlog

RCED-98-143: Published: May 14, 1998. Publicly Released: Jun 15, 1998.

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Victor S. Rezendes
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Park Service's (NPS) efforts to identify and manage the maintenance backlog, focusing on: (1) NPS' estimate of the maintenance backlog and its composition; (2) how NPS determined the maintenance backlog estimate and whether it is reliable; (3) how NPS manages the backlog; and (4) what, if any, recent requirements or initiatives are being implemented by the NPS to help address its maintenance backlog problem.

GAO noted that: (1) NPS' most recent estimate of its maintenance backlog does not accurately reflect the scope of the maintenance needs of the park system; (2) NPS estimated, as of January 1997, that its maintenance backlog was about $6.1 billion; (3) most of this amount--about $5.6 billion, or about 92 percent--was for construction projects, which, for the most part, are aimed at correcting maintenance problems at existing facilities; (4) however, over 21 percent of the $5.6 billion in construction projects, or $1.2 billion, was for the construction of new facilities, such as $24 million for a bike path at the Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia and $16.6 million to replace a visitor center and construct a park entrance at Acadia National Park in Maine; (5) while GAO does not question the need for these facilities, including these kinds of new construction projects or projects that expand or upgrade park facilities in an estimate of the maintenance backlog is not appropriate because such projects go beyond what could reasonably be viewed as maintenance; (6) including them in the maintenance backlog contributes to confusion about the park system's actual maintenance needs; (7) NPS estimates of its maintenance backlog are compiled on an ad hoc basis in response to requests from Congress or others; the agency does not have a routine, systematic process for determining its maintenance backlog; (8) the most recent estimate, as of January 1997, was based largely on information that was compiled by NPS in 1993 and has not been updated to reflect changing conditions in individual park units; (9) this fact, as well as the absence of a common definition of what should be included in the maintenance backlog, contributed to an inaccurate and out-of-date estimate; (10) NPS does not use the estimated backlog in managing park maintenance operations; (11) as such, it has not specifically identified its total maintenance backlog; (12) because the identified backlog far exceeds the funding resources being made available to address it, NPS has focused its efforts on identifying its highest-priority maintenance needs; (13) however, given that substantial additional funding resources are being made available--over $100 million starting in fiscal year 1998--NPS needs to more accurately determine its total maintenance needs so that it can better track progress in meeting them; and (14) NPS is taking actions to help address the maintenance backlog problem in response to several requirements.