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Grading the Parks


    Is Yellowstone National Park doing a better job than Grand Canyon National Park when it comes to spending its budget, managing the resources, and tending to visitors? How does Acadia National Park measure up to Joshua Tree National Park in those same categories?
    Those are some of the questions the folks in the National Park Service's budget office are trying to answer through development of a new "NPS Scorecard."
    This scorecard, according to an internal NPS memo, is designed to measure the "relative performance of parks." Its preparation is "driven by performance-based budgeting principles contained in the president's management reform initiatives."
     Searching for efficiencies and new business models is often productive, but can you really compare a park like Yellowstone or Yosemite to Great Basin or Isle Royale?
    And if so, will this new approach to budgeting lead to a withering of smaller park units that simply don't have the resources -- financial and manpower -- to compete with the big boys?
If that's the case, will there be a spate of fee increases as these units search for ways to adequately fund themselves?

    Theoretically, this memo says, when perfected this scorecard could be used to help determine funding levels for individual parks as "funding would be allocated to operations that indicate an ability to use the funding effectively."
    What's a tad disconcerting about this memo is that it notes that "political factors" will play a role, along with new operating requirements and regional priorities, in determining an NPS priority list for FY08 funding.
    Among the metrics being used to determine a park's performance are the amount of its base labor costs as a percentage of its gross base obligations; its base fixed expenditures as a percentage of the gross base obligations; changes in its based-funded full-time permanent positions, and; ratio of supervisory to non-supervisory positions.
    Raw scores, when calculated, will be adjusted by a number of factors, such as overall acreage, population density, even climate.
    Under the proposed scorecard, four categories of parks would be created: Quadrant 1, which produce "high efficiency, high performance scores"; Quadrant 2, which "consists of high efficiency, low performance scores"; Quadrant 3, which "consists of low efficiency, high performance scores;" and' Quadrant 4, which "consists of low efficiency, low performance scores."
    According to the memo, Quadrant 2 scoring parks will be high priority for operating fund increases. "Theoretically, these parks consist of efficient operations that could effectively use new resources to improve performance," the memo states. "Quadrant 1 parks would also be 'awarded' for their effectiveness."
    No word on what would happen to Quadrant 3 and 4 parks.
    To say the least, it will be interesting to follow how this new scorecard evolves and what its impacts on parks will be. As I learn more and get more reaction to this plan, I'll pass it on.

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