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For the first time in three years the National Park Service (NPS) budget was not reduced. Does this mean that the NPS finally has the opportunity to reduce their enormous deferred maintenance backlog?

NPS Budget History 2010-2014

Year 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Facility Operations and Maintenance $701,379,000 $701,379,000 $683,390,000 $625,661,000 $679,904,000
Total Operating Budget NPS $2,261,780,000 $2,261,559,000 $2,236,568,000 $2,097,261,000 $2,236,753,000
Facility & Maintenance as % of Total Budget 31% 31% 30.6% 29.8% 30.4%

Source: Pulled from U.S. Department of the Interior Operating PlansThe answer is not clear because the NPS claims of approximately $11.5 billion of deferred maintenance backlog contains billions for new construction projects including new or expanded parks as well as for concessioner-operated facilities.

Defining NPS Maintenance Options

The fact is that what the government calls deferred maintenance is not always maintenance related. Maintenance is usually considered to be the work performed to keep physical assets in good operating condition.

Maintenance can be proactive or reactive. Proactive maintenance programs have smaller maintenance backlogs because many problems are identified and fixed before they cause an asset to need repair or fail.

In contrast, reactive maintenance is essentially fire-fighting the problems after they occur. There will always be some level of reactive maintenance as not all problems can be avoided. The best organizations strive for at least 65-80% proactive maintenance.

NPS Deferred Maintenance

“Deferred maintenance is defined as maintenance work that has been deferred on a planned or unplanned basis to a future budget cycle or postponed until funds are available. Roof replacements, major building component repairs, mechanical equipment, underground utilities, and roads and walkways are projects that are often deferred to the next annual funding cycle”

Source: Harvey Kaiser, APPA

By definition, deferred maintenance is reactive in nature. It is also more expensive in the long run that proactive maintenance.

The Negative Impact of Deferred Maintenance

“Deferred maintenance is 5 times more costly than routine preventative maintenance.”

Source: Tom Coburn, U.S. Senator, July 25, 2013

What is interesting about Senator Coburn’s statement is that he recognized the true cost of deferred maintenance is not limited to the actual cost of repairs. For example, he noted that tort claims as a result of tripping hazards have cost the City of Philadelphia millions over the last 5 years.

Other costs associated with deferred maintenance in addition to liability include:

  • Greater capital replacement costs as assets do not last as long.
  • Higher repair costs as assets are allowed to deteriorate faster.
  • Higher labor costs which includes normal labor, emergency labor and overtime.
  • Negative public perception.

NPS Maintenance Opportunities

After reading through the testimony given at last year’s hearing held by the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources along with reviewing the NPS budget it is difficult to pinpoint how much of the deferred maintenance backlog is actually maintenance. Based upon the Senate hearings and the NPS budget, I would the number is between 50 and 66%.

Regardless of the actual amount and how the available funds are being allocated, our National Parks do have legitimate maintenance problems. These include:

Major NPS Maintenance Issues
  • 2,811 historic buildings that are categorized as being in poor condition.
  • The Grand Canyon National Park needs a safe drinking water system.
  • Yellowstone National Park loses about 50 to 70 percent of the system’s water through leaks, with reports of leaks as large as 15,000 gallons per day, per joint of pipe.
  • Sanitary and sewage system repair and replacements.
  • Ferry docks and seawall repairs.
  • Road repairs estimated at over $3.3 billion.
  • Bridge repairs.
  • Forest firewall repairs.
  • Guardrail repairs.
  • Habitat rehabilitations (repairs).
  • Fleet vehicle maintenance.

Source: Hearing before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, United States Senate, July 25, 2013

With assets over the entire nation, the NPS has a monumental task. However even the best CMMS in the world won’t be of much help without a good maintenance plan behind it.

As much as I admire NPS management efforts to make the most of a bad budget situation I do think they would be better off separating out true maintenance issues and then establishing a more proactive maintenance plan.

By establishing a proactive maintenance program, the NPS would have a legitimate chance of lowering the maintenance backlog. This would also help prevent government politics and pet projects from determining what will be worked on in a deferred maintenance plan.

Why the NPS Should Push for Stronger Proactive Maintenance

Our nation’s National Park System is more than just a vacation or weekend diversion. National parks are a snapshot of our culture, history and national image. They also generate tourism dollars from domestic and internationally visitors that are crucial to our economy.

According to a 2011 Michigan State University report prepared for the NPS, our national parks generate over $30 billion in economic activity with about 1/3 going directly into the local communities surrounding the parks.

With this type of value, it would be a shame to let national park infrastructure crumble. 2016 will mark the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service; let us hope that our nation can turn over stewardship of our parks to a new generation without a legacy of asset neglect.

Share with us the condition of the National Parks in your area. Could they use a better CMMS solution to track asset condition and maintenance activity?