National Park Service:

Opportunities to Improve the Administration of the Alternative Transportation Program

GAO-03-166R: Published: Nov 15, 2002. Publicly Released: Dec 16, 2002.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Robin M. Nazzaro
(202) 512-9775
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

In light of the increasing significance and potential costs of dealing with transportation in the national park system, we reviewed the Park Service's administration of the Alternative Transportation Program. Specifically, we are reporting on the Park Service's processes for (1) ensuring that alternative transportation projects are needed and cost-effective, and (2) evaluating the performance of the program. It is important to point out that in addressing these issues our work focused on the agency's process for reviewing and approving projects. Accordingly, we did not evaluate whether any specific project was in fact needed and cost-effective. In conducting the work, we examined agency files for a sample of 20 projects--10 planning projects and 10 construction projects--that account for 54 percent of the total program funding for fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2003.

The Park Service's process for ensuring that transportation projects are needed and cost effective could be strengthened. Park Service policies require, among other things, that park managers justify the need for a proposed transportation project and its cost-effectiveness through the collection and analysis of specific supporting data, such as an analysis of possible alternatives and operating and maintenance costs. However, this information is not required to be provided to headquarters officials when they are reviewing proposed projects for approval and prioritization. Instead, the agency allows park managers to justify proposed projects by providing descriptions of how they would meet broad agencywide objectives such as protecting natural resources or enhancing the experience of park visitors. As a result, proposed transportation projects are routinely approved and prioritized by Park Service headquarters officials based on these broad descriptions without the benefit of supporting information demonstrating the specific need for the proposed projects or their cost-effectiveness. Only 1 of the 20 project files we examined included information demonstrating the need for and cost-effectiveness of the proposed project. Under these circumstances, the Park Service cannot ensure that its process for approving and prioritizing transportation projects is effective in identifying the most meritorious projects. Park Service officials acknowledge that the approval process needs to be revised and told us they plan to change the process so that park managers will be required to provide this supporting information when submitting future project proposals. The Park Service has not developed an effective process for evaluating the performance of the Alternative Transportation Program. Currently, the agency does not have a process for systematically or objectively determining what, if any, progress the program is making toward meeting its objectives. For example, a major objective of the program is to improve the quality of visitor enjoyment by relieving traffic and parking congestion in parks. However, because the agency has not established goals for reducing such congestion or identified how congestion will be measured, the agency has no objective means of evaluating performance. Accordingly, determining what is being accomplished by an individual project or the program as a whole is based on the subjective judgments of agency managers. This results in diminished accountability since there is no effective way to determine what is being accomplished with the funds provided, and no effective means for providing agency managers or Congress with assurance that the projects are the most effective in achieving the results desired for the program.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Park Service has stated that it has taken steps to ensure that transportation projects include documentation supporting the proposed project. These include the establishment of a template to be used by parks for justifying projects, a team of experts to provide assistance to park managers contemplating projects, a training course provided to park personnel, and new project evaluation criteria used by Headquarters personnel to evaluate each project proposal. Each of these steps includes analyses of non-construction alternatives, park capacities, operations and maintenance costs, and project cost effectiveness as called for in the GAO report.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the Park Service's process for approving and prioritizing alternative transportation projects and to better ensure that the Alternative Transportation Program achieves its desired results, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to implement the agency's plans for requiring that each construction project proposal submitted for headquarters approval include documentation supporting the need for a proposed project--including an analysis of non-construction alternatives and park capacity data. Similarly, planning proposals should ensure that this kind of information is developed by identifying plans for obtaining it.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Park Service stated that it has taken steps to ensure that transportation projects include documentation supporting the proposed projects' cost effectiveness. These include establishing a template to be used by parks that prompts parks to include data on operations and maintenance costs and project cost-effectiveness. In addition, the Park Service provides technical assistance and training to park managers that includes steps to ensure projects are cost-effective. Also, new project evaluation criteria being used by Headquarters to evaluate each project proposal includes reviews of cost-effectiveness and life cycle costing analyses.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the Park Service's process for approving and prioritizing alternative transportation projects and to better ensure that the Alternative Transportation Program achieves its desired results, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to implement the agency's plans for requiring that each construction project proposal submitted for headquarters approval include an analysis supporting the project's cost-effectiveness, including total project cost estimates and anticipated annual operations and maintenance costs. Similarly, planning proposals should ensure that this kind of information is developed by identifying plans for obtaining it.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The National Park Service Alternative Transportation Program has been terminated. All transportation projects in the parks are now managed on a case-by-case basis under the Federal Transit Administration, Department of Transportation. Consequently, this recommendation is no longer applicable.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the Park Service's process for approving and prioritizing alternative transportation projects and to better ensure that the Alternative Transportation Program achieves its desired results, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to implement the agency's plans for developing a performance evaluation system, including the development of performance goals and measures, so that there is an objective basis for determining whether the program and individual projects are accomplishing the desired results.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Oct 16, 2014

Oct 14, 2014

Sep 23, 2014

Sep 22, 2014

Sep 19, 2014

Sep 15, 2014

Sep 12, 2014

Sep 9, 2014

Aug 11, 2014

Jul 28, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here