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Study: $389 Million Of Park Service Backlog Is Responsibility Of Concessionaires


The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park has over $50 million in maintenance needs, and the hotel's name is tied up in litigation of trademark rights by the previous concessionaire/Kurt Repanshek

The $11.9 billion maintenance backlog cited by the National Park Service inflates the true cost of high-priority infrastructure needs and elevates the risk for privatization and corporate giveaways in America’s parks, according to a report by an independent, nonpartisan policy institute.

The analysis, released Friday by the Center for American Progress, noted that only $3.5 billion – or less than 30 percent – of the backlog is labeled as “critical systems deferred maintenance,” and only $1.3 billion is serious enough for the agency to consider a priority for necessary maintenance. In addition, the review found $389 million worth of items in the backlog that it says should be the responsibility of private concessionaires that run businesses in the parks, not taxpayers.

“Too often, anti-conservation members of Congress argue that the National Park Service’s maintenance backlog is insurmountable, and they use this flimsy talking point to argue against protecting other at-risk lands and wildlife,” Nicole Gentile, deputy director with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress and lead author of the report, said in a release. “Congress should focus its infrastructure and maintenance investments on helping the National Park Service protect the natural and cultural resources in our parks, and force for-profit companies in the parks to pay their fair share for upkeep.”

This is the second report in the past two months that urges the Park Service to reconsider how it approaches deferred maintenance. Last month, the Government Accountability Office released a 54-page report that said the Park Service must to do a better job of prioritizing its maintenance needs and stopped short of concluding that the agency is hamstrung by congressional appropriations.

The deferred maintenance list is a tool for Congress to determine how much funding to allocate to national parks. Total funding for the Park Service was $3.25 billion in fiscal year 2015, a 5 percent increase from 2006 when adjusted for inflation. Nearly half of the backlog, $5.9 billion, is for paved roads, and funding for that work generally comes from separate transportation bills. According to data collected by the CAP, Congress in 2015 budgeted more funding per acre to national parks ($39) than other agencies that protect public lands, like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ($32), the U.S. Forest Service ($29), and the Bureau of Land Management ($5).

By including maintenance at facilities like hotels, restaurants, and gift shops operated by concessionaires in the $11.9 billion total, the CAP report argues that Congress and the Trump administration could direct taxpayer funding to these businesses, which grossed $1.14 billion in 2012, instead of trails, historic sites, and conservation projects. Most contracts with the Park Service put the burden of maintenance costs at these facilities on the concessionaires.

“Because concessionaires – rather than U.S. taxpayers – profit from these businesses, the concessionaires should be on the hook for these kinds of maintenance projects. In fact, the contracts already stipulate that concessionaires are responsible for this maintenance, therefore including these costs in the maintenance backlog is misleading at best and a misuse of taxpayer dollars at worst,” the report says.

The Park Service last year told the Center for American Policy that these items are included because taxpayers are ultimately responsible for these costs if a contractor does not pay to maintain a facility.

Maintenance obligations have at times hindered the Park Service’s ability to generate interest in concessions contracts, and when these contracts end, ownership of trademarks for properties can be disputed, most notably at Yosemite National Park, where DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite has sued for compensation for intellectual property rights after losing its bid for the park’s concessions contract. The CAP, which says it “does not support or oppose candidates or political parties,” is concerned that President Trump “could allow companies to financially benefit from the national park brand and name” if he intends to pursue a privatization agenda.

The report calls for the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General to investigate concessionaire-operated NPS facilities to ensure that the concession industry is paying its appropriate share of maintenance costs. The brief also argues that Congress should not ignore investments needed in public lands administered by other agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.


The CAP, which says it "does not support or oppose candidates or political parties,

That is laughable:

However, I agree, taxpayers should not be on the hook for maintainance that should be the responsibility of concessionaires.  Be interesting to see how the Parkies respond to the finding that only $1,3 billion of the backlog is serious enough to be considered "a priority for necessary maintenance".

I do not understand why republicans hate clean air, clean water & our park system???  The National Park system with their paltry budget gets axed every time they need to reign in spending while they keep increasing the defense budget which is already astronomical and probably 500x the budget of the Park system.  It makes no sense to the average american.

I do not understand why republicans hate clean air, clean water & our park system???

Nonsense. Republicans want clean air, clean water and a successful park system. They hate regulations that defy common sense and are based on fake/false science/data.


Having become very much a skeptic these days I have to wonder what the motivation is behind a liberal group coming out with a report like this. Whatever that motivation might be it is nice to have a little more light shed on this. I also suspect that the NPS greatly inflates these figures because they know they wont get everything they ask for. It's the game that gets played when you cant trust the keepers of the purse and vice versa. One other point, when was the last time you heard a department or organization say they had enough money? It never happens. And KJ,you need to spend some time with a republican or two. Many are just as passionate about clean air, water and the Parks but take a far more practice (in my view) approach. It's a political game the democrats and conservation groups have played well and republicans have failed miserably at but it is primarily a marketing message rather than anything of substance.

KJ - You are absolutely wrong on the facts.  But I suspect that won't change your opinion.  Military spending is down dramatically in the last 10 years while Park spending is on the rise.  In fact, defense, the primary rational for founding our federal goverment, is at historical lows as a % of GDP looking back over the last 100+ years while arguably the threat to our national is at historical highs.  

KJ - your problem, unfortunately, is that you are paying attention to the most visible republicans; those elected to political office. Those people toe the line to their bought and paid for corporate masters who profit by defiling the environment. In the rank and file, Mr and Mrs Joe Workingman, the disconnect is in between, and they support their elected poiliticians because of blahblah misdirection, which makes them enablers of the destructive force, with plausible denial. Mr & Mrs Joe can still claim to enjoy nature undefiled because their negative effect on it is one step removed from immediate viewing.


ec - You are absolutely wrong on the facts. But I suspect that won't change your opinion. Defense spending is up in the last 15 years. It has risen 50% (adjusted for inflation) while every other program (non-military) has only grown by 13.5%. In fact, in 15 years, the total defense budget has doubled. Looking at Defense spending as a % of GDP is meaningless as the US GDP has exploded over the last 50 years. US Defense spending is at its highest since WWII when looked at as a % of federal budget. During WWII, defense spending was 37% of GDP. Does that make sense now? Tying the defense budget to the GDP is a pipe dream of the Heritage Foundation, one that makes little budgetary or strategic sense.

Dahkota, f you can look at this chart and claim the recent trend of defense spending is up, it will explain many of your comments here.  

Spending has been trending down since 2008, is as low as any year since 2002 and is at the lowest percent of GDP on record not anywhere near 37% but at 14%.  Which may be one reason 2/3rds our of Navy air strike fighters can't fly.

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