Even a cursory glance at the strategic planning documents
now in use by federal and state recreation agencies shows them to be under
heavy pressure to change direction and improve performance. In
August, 1999, in a speech at Mount Rainier National Park the Director of
the National Park Service pleaded for sympathy from Park Service employees
and from the public as the agency undertakes a major reorientation of its
mission. In 1997, the California Department of Parks and Recreation
frankly admitted that it faced "continual pressure to cut costs and
improve services," and that in the face of that pressure the
Department was unsure which way its major stakeholders wanted it to turn.
Federal and state recreation agencies have arrived at
this point by different routes and for different reasons. In the
case of the National Park Service there was a long period after the
passage of the Organic Act of 1916 during which the agency enjoyed wide
discretion. An open ended management regime made sense for the
national parks. Resources were abundant in relation to demand.
Recreational behavior, constrained by mobility and crude equipment, made
little impact on the parks. And a division of labor with states and
localities in the provision of recreation services meant that most people
used nearby parks rather than the relatively remote units of the federal
system. Americans were happy to leave the management of the parks to
the agency experts.
After World War II, material prosperity and enhanced
mobility caused recreational demand to surge. New units such as
seashores, lakeshores, and national recreation areas were created and all
the federal recreation agencies, including the National Park Service, felt
pressure to open their existing planning and decision making processes to
public scrutiny and participation. The most dramatic shift in this
direction stemmed from the Wilderness Act of 1964, which constrained
agency discretion by laying out management standards, reconstituting
relationships with important political constituencies, and opening the
door to litigation. The National Park Service must now also contend
with protection and preservation mandates, such as the National
Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Faced with increased demands for access and use as well
as an insistence that park resources remain unimpaired, the agency has
sought refuge in science, more so in recent years than ever before.
It remains unclear, however, how successful the National Park Service can
be by insisting that its job is to follow the dictates of science to
preserve park resources "above all else."
By contrast, the California Department of Parks and
Recreation must serve more than seventy million visitors a year to the two
hundred and seventy-five park units scattered across the state.
There is little question that people must come first and the Department
must pay very careful, even precise, attention to the economy and
efficiency with which it provides a very wide array of recreation
services. The state parks have been created from private lands, not
from the public domain, and for the most part they have had to be
purchased. Until the first state park bond act passed in 1928,
acquisitions were small, piecemeal, and chiefly oriented towards either
historic preservation or the satisfaction of day trip and weekend visitors
from the state's major urban centers.
The modern state park system dates from the late 1950s
and early 1960s, when plans were made to respond to the same burgeoning
demand for outdoor recreation that affected federal recreation agencies,
too. The Department sought to diversify, by adding wildland parks,
for example, and by taking advantage of the opportunities for active
recreation provided by the reservoir facilities of the Central Valley
Project, which began to come on line at about this time. There has
been no massive infusion of capital into the state park system, however,
since the voters approved a quarter of a billion dollars in 1974.
The Department has been forced to restructure, to reassess its core
operations, to accept the discipline of performance based budgeting, and
to turn to volunteerism to keep service levels high.
Thus, while it is still possible for the National Park
Service to tell itself and its many publics that the care and management
of resources comes first the state Department of Parks and Recreation is
first and foremost in the business of managing people. The following
pages explore the consequences of subjecting these two different agencies
to the same discipline of performance based planning and budgeting.