Challenges with Implementing the Great American Outdoors Act

November 25, 2020

In August, President Trump signed into law the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), which invests up to $9.5 billion over five years to repair historic and other assets of the National Park Service and other federal agencies, as well as fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually. Implementation efforts began shortly thereafter with U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt issuing Secretarial Order 3383 establishing a task force to tackle the new initiative.

Earlier this month, the Trump Administration released the National Park Service list of deferred maintenance priorities for FY 2021 that identified 725 projects totaling $1.9 billion and complying with the November 2 deadline specified in the GAOA. Despite the timely release of the list, the lengthy document lacked specifics about how the money would be directed and to which priority projects located at National Park Service units listed in the document. A subsequent list outlines additional details on deferred maintenance projects for each of the federal agencies.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are eager to work with federal agencies to successfully implement the GAOA but have raised objections to the initial lack of specificity. In report language accompanying the FY 2021 Senate Appropriations Interior-Environment spending bill, the Appropriations Committee expressed disappointment and noted their right to modify the Administration’s proposed list of projects as per the GAOA language. The newly enacted legislation and release of the first year of repair projects begins a five-year effort that will preserve historic structures and other assets on public lands, while generating jobs in local communities.

The Administration shared LWCF allocations and project lists to Congress a week late on November 10 with the lists lacking detail and out of compliance with the law. Several days later, on November 13, Interior Secretary Bernhardt released Secretarial Order 3388 that would, among other things:

  • Grant unprecedented veto rights to state and local jurisdictions over federal land projects; and
  • Create arbitrary limitations on federal land acquisition in urban areas.

In response, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition strongly criticized Secretarial Order 3388. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have also admonished the Administration or failure to comply with the 90-day deadline to produce land acquisition lists for FY 2021 in their report language accompanying the FY 2021 appropriations bill. The legislation also includes the list of agency priority LWCF projects provided by the Administration earlier this year and advocates are now working to ensure detailed and complete project lists are included in the final FY 2021 appropriations bill.

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