WASHINGTON -- The National Park Service and three other forest and
wildlife agencies successfully increased their revenue under a
program that permits them to retain a portion of the fees they
collect, but three-fourths of the revenue remains unspent,
according to a government study.
A General Accounting Office report found the National Park
Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Fish and
Wildlife Service increased their total revenue from $93 million in
1996 to $179 million in 1998 under a demonstration fee program
passed by Congress in 1996. The National Park Service alone
accounted for 85% of the total revenue collected.
The program allows 206 sites to increase or create fees and
retain 80% for infrastructure improvements. Under the program,
which expires in 2001, the revenue must be used by 2004.
However, the GAO found about 76% of the revenue has not been
spent. So far, the revenue has been used to cover capital and
operating costs of collecting the fees, as well as backlogged
repairs and maintenance and for visitor services.
But the GAO noted that the four federal agencies intend to make
significant expenditures in 1999.
The GAO study also found:Some sites may have a much greater potential than others for
raising revenues, and that may lead to substantial inequities
between sites.Some sites may reach the point where they have more revenues
than they need, while other sites do not have enough.Preliminary data suggests that increased or new fees had no
major adverse effect on visitation.
"Our initial response is [the study is] pretty accurate," said
Jerome Uher, spokesman for the National Parks & Conservation
Association, a national parks advocacy group. The parks "have been
doing a good job in terms of raising revenue," Uher continued. "But
the idea is to figure out not only how they can raise fees, but how
they can charge fair rates for different usage. I don't know if
they are experimenting with raising and lowering rates as much as
they probably should."
Jim Santini, Washington representative for the National Tour
Association, praised the National Park Service for demonstrating
"considerable professionalism in the implementation of the fee
program" by "allowing for private sector feedback on the fee level,
method of collection and the equity of the fees."
Importantly, Uher said, the historically underfunded parks can
now afford to make repairs. "There are $4 billion to $8 billion of
infrastructure needs out there," Uher said. "That is at least
triple the entire one-year budget of the park service. But the main
funding for the parks should come from taxpayer dollars."
Congress omitted from the federal budget this year a provision
that would have extended the demonstration fee program, but Santini
predicted it will be reintroduced next year.