What Fees Can (and Cannot) Do for Our National Parks

Photo courtesy Renden Yoder

Now in week No. 3 of the government shutdown, so much trash has piled up at national parks that legislators are using it as a prop to score political points.

The latest uproar is over the Interior Department’s decision to tap already collected fee revenues to provide basic services to keep some parks open. Democratic legislators immediately promised to investigate the legality of the policy. Jonathan Jarvis, the Obama-era director of the National Park Service, also criticized the approach, noting that fee revenues have “always been interpreted by the Park Service as not available for operations.”

To be clear, it’s one thing to allow park staff the leeway to decide whether to spend their own funds to collect garbage, clean bathrooms, or clear snow from roofs before they collapse. It’s entirely another for bureaucrats in D.C. to force those local managers to keep their gates open and run down accounts they might need later in the year.

But the hand wringing over the idea of spending fee revenues on park operations is absurd. It flies in the face of the way the current fee program was established and the way it’s used at certain parks today, including the most-visited one in the nation. The underlying problem with the fee program is heavy-handed internal controls that agency administrators have imposed on local park staff.

Read the entire piece in The Hill.

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