SWITCHBACKmini: $12 Billion in Deferred Maintenance
I just blogged about the details of our tight budget and how we saved for it last week. Well, parks are held to a budget too. And they’re not doing so hot.
As of 2014, the National Parks Service has a backlog of $12 billion worth of deferred maintenance. (That’s 4x the 2014 NPS annual budget of $3 billion!!!)
Defined by the NPS, “DM is maintenance that was not performed at the required intervals to ensure an acceptable facility condition to support the expected life cycle of an asset. It is the total of unfunded facilities deficiencies. These deficiencies require work to raise facilities and collateral equipment to a condition that meets accepted codes, laws and standards and to achieve service life expectancies.” That’s projects like trail repair, outhouse updates, visitor center display repair, etc. These projects don’t rank first in importance or urgency, but when they pile up and are neglected for so long it’s not good for the park or its visitors.
Now, the NPS gets money from a few sources but the main one is the chunk Congress carves out for it in the federal budget. This pays for most basic operating expenses (e.g. Rangers salaries). Another, smaller source of income is park entrance, permit and camping fees. The majority of these fees (80% of entrance fees) stay in that park to cover extra projects like interpretive trail guides. Throughout the parks we’ve noticed and appreciated signs on something that say “Your fees at work.” There’s also precedent for Congress passing legislation to give the NPS a one-time boost in funds to prepare for a milestone anniversary. Congress is currently considering the National Park Service Centennial Act (https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/s2257)
Personally, I think it’s a shame and disservice the maintenance backlog is so huge and so neglected. National Parks don’t take up much of our national budget. (In 2014, the federal government spent 3.5 trillion. The NPS share of 3 billion equals 0.1%.) But I think they are one agency that should not cut back on. The NPS is not only important because it’s charged with being the stewards of our greatest national treasures, but the sites it supports also attract huge numbers of domestic and foreign tourists. (See our National Park 201 post for stats on the NPS budget and contributions to the economy). A friend from Germany we spent a day with in Hawaii Volcanoes NP said the U.S. is by far the country with the best natural attractions. We’ve heard this sentiment again and again.
On the other hand, it’s true that just throwing more money at something won’t make it better. The NPS must spend its limited funds very wisely over a number of different agency priorities, the 409 NPS sites, and countless projects.
But how and if it will do that is a whole other matter… and it’s above my pay grade. 😉
***Housekeeping Note: We’be been posting “SWITCHBACKminis” to our Facebook group (Facebook.com/switchbackkids) every Friday now for the past few months. And because we think they are so worth reading we will now be cross-posting any of them here on our blog! 😛