Alexander Lofgren Veterans in Parks (VIP) Act
STATEMENT OF JOY BEASLEY, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR CULTURAL RESOURCES, PARTNERSHIPS AND SCIENCE, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS CONCERNING S. 2580, A BILL TO DIRECT THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR AND THE SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE TO MAKE FREE NATIONAL PARKS AND FEDERAL RECREATION LANDS PASSES AVAILALE TO MEMBERS OF THE ARMED FORCES AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
October 6, 2021
Chairman King, Ranking Member Daines, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 2580, a bill to direct the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to make free National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Passes available to Members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.
The Department supports S. 2580 with technical amendments. S. 2580 would provide statutory certainty and administrative efficiency for the recreation passes that Federal land management agencies currently offer to active-duty U.S. military service members and their families, veterans, and Gold Star Family members. These recreation passes provide a tangible way to recognize the service and sacrifice of members of the armed forces and their families.
S. 2580 would amend the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) to require the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to offer no-cost annual passes to active-duty military members and their dependents and no-cost lifetime passes to veterans and members of Gold Star Families. All three of these groups are currently eligible for free annual recreation passes. However, only the Gold Star Family members are eligible for passes by law; active-duty military members and their dependents, and veterans, are eligible for free annual passes through administrative decisions. These groups are eligible for no cost annual passes, not lifetime passes.
The Department believes that providing for these passes by law will provide certainty about the availability of these passes in the future. We also believe that it is appropriate to convert the current veterans annual pass, and the Gold Star Family annual pass, to lifetime passes, as that will save administrative costs for the agencies and reduce the time and effort of renewing passes for the veterans and Gold Star Family members themselves.
FLREA, enacted in 2004, authorizes the National Park Service (NPS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to collect and retain revenue and requires that fee revenue be used to enhance the visitor experience. At least 80 percent of the money stays in the park or recreation site where it is collected.
As a part of FLREA, Congress established the multi-agency America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Program (Interagency Pass Program) to cover entrance fees for the NPS and FWS and standard amenity recreation fees for the BLM, USFS, and BOR. The Interagency Pass Program began in 2007 and includes an annual pass for $80, a $10 lifetime pass (later changed to $80) for those age 62 years or older (Lifetime Senior Pass), and a free lifetime pass for persons with permanent disabilities (Access Pass), which has always included disabled veterans.
Public Law 113-121, enacted in 2014, authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to also participate in the Interagency Pass Program. In 2019, these six agencies sold an estimated three million passes. Revenue from the sale of the passes—which totaled nearly $95 million in 2019—is a significant source of supplemental funding that enhances our efforts to address the maintenance backlog at our national parks, better manage other federal lands, and respond quickly to changes in visitation levels and service requirements.
While the Department supports enacting S. 2580, we are mindful about the impact that free Federal recreation passes will have on recreation fee revenues and encourage Congress to carefully consider the need for adequate resources so that members of the Armed Forces and all Americans can enjoy their public lands. The current Gold Star Families pass and the veterans pass, authorized by Secretarial Orders in October 2020, have been available for a year, during a period when many national parks and other public lands facilities experienced reduced visitation due to the pandemic. We do not yet have information comparing fee revenue in the years before and after these two passes were made available. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss with the Committee ways we can ensure that we have access to adequate revenue to benefit visitors to our parks and public lands, as Congress intended.
We also want to note that FLREA is not a permanent program. Since the 10-year initial authorization for the program expired in 2013, Congress has extended the authority for the program in one- or two-year increments in appropriations bills. If the authority for FLREA were to expire, so too would the authority for no-cost recreation passes.
The Department agrees that members of the Armed Forces, veterans, and Gold Star Families should have free access to Federal recreational lands. The Department supports the continuation and codification of providing a free annual pass for Active-Duty Military members and a free lifetime pass for Gold Star Families. We look forward to working with the Committee and sponsor alongside our partner agencies to provide input into the language of the bill to clarify and enhance its implementation.
Chairman King, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.