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NPS Infrastructure: What Condition Is It In?


    Imagine being the poor soul who must inventory the National Park Service's man-made improvements. Actually, the poor souls, for this job can't be handled by one person.
    But it's being done in an effort by the agency to come to terms with the condition of the agency's infrastructure and to try to get a better grasp on what it might take, financially, to bring the Park Service's buildings, roads, trails, treatment systems and housing up to snuff.
    In a report presented this week to the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, the Park Service quite candidly stated that, "The NPS infrastructure is comprised of a large and diverse set of assets, many of which are beyond their expected life cycle, and many of which there is no 'industry standard' to benchmark against."

    Back in January, in an interview with Bruce Sheaffer, the Park Service's long-tenured comptroller, I alluded to this ongoing inventory. In a nutshell, the agency is surveying all of its far-flung buildings, facilities, roads and trails to determine how much it will cost to bring them up to snuff.
    The process is moving along, as the report to the subcommittee indicates. For instance, as of September 30, 2005, the Park Service had identified 5,804 miles of paved roads within its 388 or so units, and 4,292 miles of unpaved roads. Additionally, there were 16,885 miles of trails, 22,369 overnight campsites and 21,335 buildings.
    Plus, there are almost 5,000 employee-housing units, 1,391 water treatment systems, and 1,625 waste-water treatment systems.
    Those are the holdings. What condition they're in will be released by the end of the current fiscal year. Of course, the number is a moving target, in part because the NPS will be rolling out a series of "five-year cycle" comprehensive condition assessments, and in part because the agency's holdings are not static.
    That said, the agency hopes that this process will result in a better grasp of exactly how big its maintenance backlog is and what constitutes it.
    "There will always be a backlog," the report states. "What is important is the condition of the most important assets and how it trends over time. For the first time ever, the NPS can establish a baseline evaluation of the condition of the various asset types and use this to measure how our future investments change the condition of the asset."
    That said, what the agency knows right now is that its waste-water systems are the worst-off of all its assets. Plus, its road system represents "roughly half of the deferred maintenance identified."
    Once all the data are compiled, NPS planners will be able to identify what their repair and maintenance needs are, and then prioritize them.
    Of course, still to be developed are standards for evaluating atypical assets, such as landscapes, archaeological ruins, and forts.

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