Today, House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) led a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, requesting answers to how their departments are implementing the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). In part, the members wrote:
"Despite the intention of GAOA to address real deferred maintenance needs, portions of funds are dedicated to administrative costs and contingency funds. Alarmingly, more than 30 percent of FY 2023 NPS Legacy Restoration Funds are dedicated to overhead costs, rather than obligated to specific projects...
"Not only is the allocation of taxpayer funds to these bureaucratic costs concerning, but also the proportion of funding distributed to a limited number of projects near major metropolitan centers is equally troubling. Of the NPS’ 26 selected projects, the first, second, and fourth most expensive projects, which are all located in either Washington, D.C., or San Francisco, CA, accounted for over one-fifth of the total FY 2023 NPS Legacy Restoration Fund allocations. In comparison, the 10 projects with the lowest requested amounts together accounted for just 6.4 percent of the FY 2023 NPS Legacy Restoration Fund allocations. The heavy concentration of funding to select urban projects alone raises questions about whether DOI is utilizing taxpayer funds to effectively address the greatest number of deferred maintenance projects across the country, or whether the agency is simply funneling money to multi-million-dollar projects in wealthy urban areas.
"Our concerns, however, are not limited to how your Departments allocate the Legacy Restoration Fund. Greater transparency is needed to determine whether your Departments are effectively managing the completion of projects, as well as to assess the overall reduction in the deferred maintenance backlog. Alarmingly, NPS released updated deferred maintenance statistics revealing the agency’s backlog increased nearly $10 billion over the past four years. The Biden administration, however, has yet to publish a Deferred Maintenance Report for the USFS, BLM, or FWS. Without a current accounting of existing deferred maintenance projects, it is unknown if your Departments are allocating funds in a manner that significantly reduces the backlog of deferred maintenance projects, as Congress intended. Further, questions remain about the criteria your Departments have employed to select the size, geographic distribution, and funding amounts for specific projects."
GAOA allocates $1.3 billion annually toward addressing deferred park maintenance projects at our national parks, yet the FY 2022 numbers disclosed by NPS show a nearly $10 billion increase in the maintenance backlog in just four years. GAOA also provides $600 million to address deferred maintenance at our other land agencies, which have failed to publish updated deferred maintenance statistics.
Read the full letter here.