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Highlights

In recent years, Congress has expressed concerns about the federal land management agencies' ability to provide quality recreational opportunities and reduce visitor confusion over the variety of user fees. In December 2004, Congress passed the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (REA) to standardize recreation fee collection and use at federal lands and waters. GAO was asked to determine (1) what the agencies have done to coordinate implementation of REA, (2) what agencies have done to implement REA, (3) the extent to which agencies have controls and accounting procedures for collected fees, (4) how projects and activities are selected to receive funding from fees, and (5) the extent of unobligated fund balances. To answer these objectives, GAO reviewed agency guidance, analyzed fee data, interviewed officials, visited 26 fee-collecting units, and administered a nationwide survey to 900 fee-collecting units.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Interior To allow for public input on new fees or modifications to existing fees, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should expedite completing the steps needed for the Recreation Resource Advisory Committees and existing advisory councils to begin implementing REA.
Closed - Implemented
Recreation Resource Advisory Committees were formed and met to review fee proposals.
Department of Agriculture To allow for public input on new fees or modifications to existing fees, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should expedite completing the steps needed for the Recreation Resource Advisory Committees and existing advisory councils to begin implementing REA.
Closed - Implemented
Recreation Resource Advisory Committees were formed and met to review fee proposals.
Department of the Interior In order to improve agencies' implementation of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act and improve the accountability and controls for recreation fee collection, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, National Park Service; Director, Bureau of Land Management; and Director, Fish and Wildlife Service to promptly issue final regulations and implementation guidance on the fee program, including detailed policy and procedure guidance.
Closed - Implemented
The National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service each updated their guidance on the Recreation Fee Program.
Department of the Interior In order to improve agencies' implementation of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act and improve the accountability and controls for recreation fee collection, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, Bureau of Land Management and Director, Fish and Wildlife Services to ascertain the extent to which their units do not have effective processes and procedures for accounting for and controlling collected fees and develop guidance for implementing appropriate and effective internal controls over cash management. This guidance for implementing such controls should identify and encourage the use of best practices, such as routine audits.
Closed - Implemented
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) updated its Recreation Permit and Fee Manual, including a section on recreation fee collections policy; it also incorporated best practices from the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program in its updated Recreation Permit and Fee Handbook. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) included detailed collection and accounting procedures in its updated guidance; it also added the recreation fee collection process to its Division of Financial Management's review of internal controls over financial reporting.
Department of the Interior The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation to expedite its decision on implementation of REA.
Closed - Implemented
In November 2007, the Bureau of Reclamation set forth its requirements for implementing and managing the REA fee program.
Department of Agriculture In order to improve the Forest Service's implementation of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act and improve the accountability and controls for collected recreation fees, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Forest Service to promptly issue final regulations and implementing guidance on the fee program, including detailed policy and procedure guidance.
Closed - Implemented
The Forest Service approved final regulations and issued guidance related to the Recreation Fees program in December 2013.
Department of Agriculture In order to improve the Forest Service's implementation of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act and improve the accountability and controls for collected recreation fees, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Forest Service to ascertain the extent to which its units do not have effective processes and procedures for accounting for and controlling collected fees and develop guidance for implementing appropriate and effective internal controls over cash management. This guidance for implementing such controls should identify and encourage the use of best practices, such as routine audits.
Closed - Implemented
Forest Service updated and revised its policies and procedures for Billings and Collections in Chapter 6530 of the Forest Service Manual, effective December 13, 2007. Forest Service also revised and clarified portions of its Collection Officers Handbook (FSH 6509.14). Among the changes to the handbook were modifications to Chapter 10 - Collection Activities, effective May 15, 2008 and revisions and clarifications to Chapter - Zero Code, effective June 18, 2008. Specifically, instructions related to conducting an audit are outlined in sections 03.7 and 04.16 of Chapter Zero Code. To augment the audit program, Forest Service senior management also assigned a full-time Albuquerque Service Center resource to monitor the fee program.

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