The Great American Outdoors Act, P.L. 116-
152: Selected Provisions

Updated August 12, 2020
The Great American Outdoors Act—P.L. 116-152—established a new fund with mandatory spending
authority to address deferred maintenance needs of five federal agencies. The law also made the deposits
to an existing fund—the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)—mandatory spending and made
other changes to the LWCF Act. This Insight addresses some provisions of the new law.
National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Forest Service (FS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and
National Park Service (NPS) maintain thousands of diverse assets, including roads and buildings. Each
agency has a backlog of deferred maintenance (DM), defined as maintenance not performed as needed
and put off for a future time. For FY2018, the backlog for NPS was reported at $11.9 bil ion, FS at $5.2
bil ion, FWS at $1.3 bil ion, and BLM at $1.0 bil ion. Additional y, the Department of the Interior (DOI)
reported DM of $1.8 bil ion for Indian Affairs, including the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). For al
the agencies except BIE, a major portion of DM is in transportation assets.
Most funding for agency DM has come from discretionary appropriations. The agencies also have
mandatory spending authorities, including transportation maintenance funding.
P.L. 116-152 established a new mandatory fund to address DM for the five agencies (NPS, FS, FWS,
BLM, and BIE). The fund is to receive annual deposits for FY2021-FY2025 of 50% of al federal energy
(from oil, gas, coal, or renewable energy) credited as miscel aneous receipts to the Treasury, up
to a cap of $1.9 bil ion annual y. The law states that it would not affect the disposition of revenues due to
states, trust funds, or special funds (such as the LWCF and the Historic Preservation Fund) and that it
would not affect revenues that have been otherwise appropriated under federal law (e.g., under the Gulf of
Mexico Energy Security Act [GOMESA] and the Mineral Leasing Act).
Of the amounts deposited each year in the fund (up to $1.9 bil ion annual y), NPS is to receive a 70%
share, FS 15%, FWS 5%, BLM 5%, and BIE 5% for its schools. The agencies must use the funding for
“priority deferred maintenance projects.” At least 65% of each agency’s funds is for “non-transportation
projects.” In general, the President would submit lists of priority projects to Congress with annual budget
justifications. Appropriations acts may specify an “alternate al ocation.” If alternate al ocations have not
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been enacted by the enactment date of the full-year appropriations for Interior, Environment, and Related
Agencies, or if legislation containing alternate al ocations of less than the full amount were enacted, the
President would have the authority to al ocate amounts. The meaning of these provisions may not be
entirely clear; for instance, it is not entirely clear if the President must al ocate the funds in accordance
with the President’s budget submission if Congress does not act or enacts less than the full amount.
It is unclear whether deposits to the DM fund would reach the $1.9 bil ion cap in each year. Because the
fund receives 50% of federal energy revenues deposited in the Treasury as miscel aneous receipts, these
revenues would have to total $3.8 bil ion in a given year for the cap to be reached. DOI revenue
disbursement data show that Treasury miscel aneous receipts from natural resource extraction ranged
annually from $2.2 bil ion to $8.2 bil ion for FY2010-FY2019. Future revenues would depend on factors
including oil and gas prices, production levels, and federal leasing policies, among others. For example,
future revenues could be affected by changes in oil prices and energy use patterns attributed to the
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Land and Water Conservation Fund
Under the LWCF Act, $900 mil ion is deposited annual y into the LWCF. Nearly al of the revenue is derived
from oil and gas leasing offshore. Prior to P.L. 116-152, the money had been available only if appropriated in
subsequent law and thus was considered discretionary spending. The annual appropriations general y
were less than $900 mil ion, resulting in an unappropriated balance of approximately $22 bil ion through
The LWCF Act sets out authorized purposes of the fund, relating to federal land acquisition and outdoor
recreation grants to states
. Appropriations also have been provided for other programs. The LWCF Act
requires the President’s annual budget to identify requirements from the fund, sets out “federal purposes
for which the President is to al ot appropriations “unless otherwise al otted in the appropriation Act
making them available,” and provides that not less than 40% of total monies are to be used for each of
federal purposes and “financial assistance to states.” Congress typical y has reviewed presidential budget
requests for LWCF appropriations for agencies, accounts, and programs, and it has determined the total
appropriation and the portion for each component.
The LWCF receives additional money (beyond the $900 mil ion in the LWCF Act) under GOMESA.
These appropriations are mandatory spending and can be used only for outdoor recreation grants to states.
P.L. 116-152 made the $900 mil ion annual deposits into the fund under the LWCF Act mandatory
spending (in addition to GOMESA mandatory appropriations). The monies would be available “to carry
out the purposes of the Fund,” including accounts and programs funded from the LWCF under P.L. 116-
94. The new law could be unclear as to whether it applies to the funding specifications in the explanatory
material for P.L. 116-94.
To al ocate the funds, P.L. 116-152 general y requires the President to submit annual y to Congress
“detailed account, program, and project al ocations” for the full amount available. The law provides for
alternate al ocations by Congress under a procedure similar to that described above for DM.
Budgetary Implications of Great American Outdoors Act
P.L. 116-152 provides mandatory spending for activities that, in the past, have been funded with
discretionary spending (i.e., through the annual appropriations process). As a result, such funding would
no longer be considered within annual discretionary spending limits, such as the statutory limits (currently
through FY2021)
and the appropriations subcommittee al ocations under the Congressional Budget Act.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the law would increase mandatory spending outlays by

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almost $5.9 bil ion over six years (FY2020-FY2025) and almost $17.3 bil ion over 11 years (FY2020-

Author Information

Carol Hardy Vincent
Bill Heniff Jr.
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Analyst on Congress and the Legislative Process

Laura B. Comay

Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

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