COVID-19: Review of Existing Policies Could Help Selected Agencies Better Prepare for Fluctuations in Dedicated User Fee Revenue

What GAO found

The revenues of the executive agencies from dedicated user fees were lower during the financial year 2020 and the first half of the financial year 2021 compared to the average annual revenues for the financial years 2017 to 2019, the 3 years preceding the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the declaration of the pandemic as a national emergency in March 2020, these incomes were about 39% lower than the average for the past three years during the same period.

The revenues of the executive agencies from dedicated user fees in fiscal year 2020 were overall lower than the average for the previous three years

Note: For details, see Figure 2 in GAO-21-104325.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Park Service (NPS), and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have all prioritized critical spending, sought to increase available funds or operational flexibilities, and relied on carry-over balances to cover essential expenses during the pandemic. However, the FAA and NPS have not documented plans to review some management plans and policies.

  • The FAA has drafted a cash management plan containing measures to help it perform essential functions during a period of volatile Airports and Airways Trust Fund (AATF) income. FAA officials told GAO they may revisit the plan to align it with leaders’ priorities in the event of future instability in AATF revenue. However, the FAA has not documented any plans to conduct such a review, which could help the FAA better prepare for future periods of income instability.
  • NPS parks have relied on funds carried over from previous years during the pandemic to varying degrees, depending on local circumstances. The NPS requires that many fee-charging parks carry over no more than 35% of the previous year’s revenue from certain fees. The agency has not performed an analysis to determine the effectiveness of this policy since its implementation in 2010. For this reason, the NPS may not maintain its deferral balances in the most efficient manner.

Why GAO did this study

Each year, federal agencies collect billions of dollars in dedicated user fee revenue from fees charged to users of federal goods and services, which are dedicated by law to a specific goal or program. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted critical government operations for agencies that depend on these revenues.

The CARES Act included a provision for GAO to examine the effects of the pandemic on public institutions in the United States. other goals.

To determine revenue changes, GAO compared dedicated user fee revenue for fiscal 2020 and 2021 to amounts from previous years. The GAO selected three agencies to review – FAA, NPS, and USCIS – based on whether they relied on dedicated user fee revenue to a high (FAA and USCIS) or low (NPS), among other factors. GAO interviewed officials from selected agencies and reviewed relevant documents to determine how those agencies handled revenue changes, and compared those actions to internal control standards and best practices in fee design.

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