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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

National Park Service: Recent Appropriations Trends

Laura B. Comay
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

This report examines trends in National Park Service (NPS) appropriations over the past decade, as well as other statistics such as the size of the National Park System, numbers of recreation visits to the parks, and NPS staffing levels. NPS receives appropriations in the annual Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill. From FY2003 through FY2012, NPS appropriations increased by about 15% in nominal dollars, but declined by about 5% in inflationadjusted dollars. A spike in appropriations occurred in FY2009, the year that economic stimulus measures were enacted in P.L. 111-5, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Five accounts make up the NPS appropriation. Among these, the only account for which funding rose over the decade (by 11.8% in inflation-adjusted dollars) was the largest account, titled “Operation of the National Park System” (ONPS). This account supports the activities, programs, and services that form the day-to-day operations of the park system. The majority of ONPS funds are provided directly to managers of individual park units. Appropriations for the Park Service’s other accounts—including its Construction account, two accounts that primarily support state and local preservation, and an account for land acquisition by both NPS and the states—declined during the decade. The declines in these accounts ranged from about 20% to about 60% in inflation-adjusted dollars. The Construction account, which saw the greatest percentage decline, is used to address, among other things, the Park Service’s deferred maintenance backlog, which has continued to rise.

The funding changes took place in the context of stability in the size of the National Park System, which was about 84.4 million acres throughout the decade. NPS staffing levels hovered around 20,000 for the first several years (FY2003-FY2008), but then rose toward the end of the decade (FY2010-FY2012), coinciding with increased appropriations for park operations following the FY2009 economic stimulus measures. Visits to the parks were lowest at the beginning of the decade (around 266 million in calendar year 2003), and peaked at around 285 million in 2009, declining to about 279 million for 2011.

Date of Report: September 24, 2012
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R42757
Price: $29.95

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