FS Overhead on GAOA Projects Less Than Park Service: Should FS Get More of the Pie?

Sadly, this E&E news article appears to not be available even to those with a Greenwire subscription. Below is from this E&E News story. It was interesting that it requires some kind of higher level of subscription ($) than some have to access it.

Westerman’s ascension all but guarantees that it will be a tough year for the park service on Capitol Hill. He said NPS and other agencies have had it far too easy under Democratic control during the last two years and that it’s time for the committee to step up its oversight.

When Congress first passed the landmark Great American Outdoors Act in 2020, Westerman called it “a Band-Aid on a bullet wound,” saying he backed it as a step in the right direction but questioned whether it would go far enough. He and other Republicans now say the evidence is now clear: While the law promised to give NPS up to $6.5 billion over a five-year period, the agency’s backlog has only
ballooned, going from roughly $12 billion in 2018 to a record high of more than $22 billion at the end of 2022.


In a May letter to Haaland, they first complained that the agency had “alarmingly” proposed spending 30 percent of its money under the Great American Outdoors Act this year to pay for overhead costs rather than specific projects. “I promise you that’s not what I had in mind when we set up the Great American Outdoors Act to fix infrastructure in our federal lands,” Westerman said in the interview.

In a July letter, Westerman and other Republicans said that NPS had prioritized “relatively obscure park units in urban areas” over its “crown jewels” in rural areas. As proof, they said some top parks were omitted from the fiscal 2023 project list even though they had large maintenance backlogs, including Yosemite, Zion, Grand Teton, and Rocky Mountain national parks.

They have also questioned why NPS decided to spend $161 million to rehabilitate the George Washington Memorial Highway in suburban Washington, and nearly $166 million on two park sites in the San Francisco congressional district represented by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), saying the money could have been better spent elsewhere.

The Republicans asked the agency for “a full accounting of all funds,” along with all documents and communications — including emails — that show how projects have been prioritized.
NPS declined to comment on the committee’s oversight plans.

I could hazard a guess as to why those sites were picked-the term “pork” comes to mind. Fortunately the Daily Caller reported on this from last May and it is available via the House Natural Resources website:

In the letter, Westerman and the other Republicans noted that the administration’s budget suggested that funds appropriated under Great American Outdoors Act’s (GAOA) Legacy Restoration Fund (LRF) were being given to “overhead costs” instead of specific projects as the bill intended when it was passed in 2020. The program awards several Interior Department (DOI) and Agriculture Department (USDA) subagencies a total of $1.9 billion per year between 2021-2025 for park restoration projects.

“Despite the intention of GAOA to address real deferred maintenance needs, portions of funds are dedicated to administrative costs and contingency funds,” the Republicans wrote to Haaland and Vilsack. “Alarmingly, more than 30 percent of FY 2023 [National Park Service (NPS)] Legacy Restoration Funds are dedicated to overhead costs, rather than obligated to specific projects.

They added that between 13-17% of the LRF funds allocated to the Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service were also earmarked for overhead costs.

Looking at the bill text, it’s not clear to me that they explicitly stated “no overhead”. Conceivably agencies could charge, say 60% or so overhead, like research universities. It doesn’t seem fair that the Park Service charges so much more than the other agencies.. which didn’t seem to raise any eyebrows. Maybe Congress should put in a cap, now that they know how much, say the FS charges. Or as I suggested, a greater percentage of the total funding be allocated to the agencies with lower overheads.

Also of interest in the bill is the requirement that:

Submission of Annual List of Projects to Congress.–Until the date on which all of the amounts in the Fund are expended, the President shall annually submit to Congress, together with the annual budget of the United States, a list of projects to be funded from the Fund that includes a detailed description of each project, including the estimated expenditures from the Fund for the project for the applicable fiscal year.

So conceivably, Congress has a chance to weigh in on each agency’s list. Anyone with more info on how this works, please add in comments.

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