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




Updated November 19, 2020
The Great American Outdoors Act, P.L. 116-152
The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA; P.L. 116-152)
FY2010-FY2019, comparable Treasury miscellaneous
established a new fund with mandatory spending authority
receipts ranged annually from $2.2 billion to $8.2 billion.
to address deferred maintenance needs of five federal
These revenues came primarily from offshore oil and gas
agencies. The law also made available the deposits to an
leasing. Future revenues are uncertain and would depend on
existing fund—the Land and Water Conservation Fund
many factors. For example, energy revenues for FY2020
(LWCF)—as mandatory spending and made other changes
(deposited to the LRF in FY2021) could be affected by the
to the LWCF Act (54 U.S.C. §§200301 et seq.). This In
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Focus addresses selected provisions of the law.
Of the amounts deposited in the fund each year, NPS is to
National Parks and Public Land Legacy
receive a 70% share, FS 15%, FWS 5%, BLM 5%, and BIE
Restoration Fund
5% for its schools. The agencies must use the funding for
“priority deferred maintenance projects.” At least 65% of
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Forest Service
each agency’s funds are for “non-transportation projects.”
(FS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and National Park
The GAOA directs the President to submit lists of priority
Service (NPS) maintain thousands of diverse assets, such as
DM projects to Congress with annual budget justifications
roads and buildings. Each agency has a backlog of deferred
and separately directs the Secretaries of the Interior and
maintenance (DM), defined as maintenance not performed
Agriculture, within 90 days of enactment, to submit lists of
as needed and put off for a future time. For FY2018, the
priority projects that are ready to implement with FY2021
backlog for NPS was reported at $11.9 billion, FS at $5.2
funding. The law specifies that appropriations acts may
billion, FWS at $1.3 billion, and BLM at $1.0 billion.
provide an “alternate allocation” under the percentages
Additionally, the Department of the Interior (DOI) reported
defined for each agency. If Congress does not enact an
DM of $1.8 billion for Indian Affairs, including the Bureau
alternate allocation by the date of enactment of full-year
of Indian Education (BIE). For all the agencies except BIE,
appropriations for Interior, Environment, and Related
a major portion of DM is in transportation assets.
Agencies (or if Congress allocates less than the full
amount), the President is to allocate amounts. It is unclear if
In the past, most funding for agency DM has come from
the President must allocate the funds in accordance with the
discretionary appropriations. The agencies also have
priorities specified in the budget submission.
mandatory spending authorities, including transportation
maintenance funding under the Fixing America’s Surface
FY2021 Allocation
Transportation Act (P.L. 114-94), entrance and recreation
On November 2, 2020, the Secretaries of the Interior and
fees under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act
Agriculture submitted FY2021 DM project lists as required
(16 U.S.C. §§6801-6814), and others.
within 90 days of enactment. On November 10, 2020, the
Senate Committee on Appropriations released a draft
The GAOA established the National Parks and Public Land
explanatory statement for FY2021 Interior appropriations,
Legacy Restoration Fund (LRF) with mandatory
directing the Secretaries to “modify their lists to provide
appropriations to address DM for the five agencies (NPS,
specific project information, including estimated costs by
FS, FWS, BLM, and BIE). The fund is to receive annual
project, as soon as possible.” Full-year appropriations for
deposits for FY2021-FY2025 of 50% of all federal energy
FY2021 for Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
revenues (from oil, gas, coal, or renewable energy) credited
have not been enacted as of November 18, 2020.
in the preceding fiscal year as miscellaneous receipts to the
Treasury, up to a cap of $1.9 billion annually. The law
Land and Water Conservation Fund
states that it would not affect the disposition of energy
revenues due to states, trust funds, or special funds (such as
Under the LWCF Act, $900 million is deposited annually
the LWCF or the Historic Preservation Fund, 54 U.S.C.
into the LWCF. Nearly all of the revenue is derived from oil and
§303102) and that it would not affect revenues that have
gas leasing offshore. Prior to P.L. 116-152, the money had
been otherwise appropriated under federal law—for
been available only if appropriated in subsequent law and
example, under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act
thus was considered discretionary spending. The annual
(GOMESA; 43 U.S.C. §1331 note) or the Mineral Leasing
appropriations generally were less than $900 million,
Act (30 U.S.C. §191).
resulting in an unappropriated balance of $22.1 billion
through FY2019.
Whether deposits to the LRF will reach the $1.9 billion cap
in each year is uncertain. The energy revenues deposited as
The LWCF Act sets out authorized purposes of the fund
miscellaneous receipts in the Treasury would have to total
relating to federal land acquisition and outdoor recreation
$3.8 billion in a given year to yield $1.9 billion for the
grants to states. Appropriations also have been provided for
fund. DOI revenue disbursement data show that, for
other programs. The LWCF Act requires the President’s
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The Great American Outdoors Act, P.L. 116-152
annual budget to identify requirements from the fund and
require the written support of the pertinent governor and
sets out “federal purposes” for which the President is to
county and would prioritize FWS and NPS projects. Also
allot appropriations “unless otherwise allotted in the
on that date, the Administration proposed an allocation of
appropriation Act making them available.” It further
$900 million for FY2021: $240 million for federal land
provides that not less than 40% of total monies are to be
acquisition, with projects for FWS, NPS, and FS but not
used for each of (1) “federal purposes” and (2) “financial
BLM; $495 million for outdoor recreation grants to states;
assistance to states.” Congress typically has reviewed
and $165 million for other programs (e.g., Forest Legacy).
presidential budget requests for LWCF appropriations for
agencies, accounts, and programs, and it has determined the
As noted, FY2021 full-year appropriations for Interior
total appropriation and the portion for each component.
agencies have not been enacted. In a November 10, 2020,
draft explanatory statement, the Senate Committee on
The LWCF receives additional money (beyond the
Appropriations set out an alternate allocation of the $900
$900 million in the LWCF Act) under GOMESA. These
million: $370 million for federal land acquisition, with
appropriations are mandatory spending and can be used
projects for all four agencies; $371 million for outdoor
only for outdoor recreation grants to states. States can
recreation grants to states; and $159 million for other
receive a maximum of $125 million annually under
programs. In earlier action, prior to enactment of the
GOMESA, except the maximum is $162.5 million in
GAOA, a report (H.Rept. 116-448) of the House
FY2021 and FY2022. P.L. 116-152 made the $900 million
Committee on Appropriations included allocation
annual deposits under the LWCF Act mandatory spending.
“parameters” for the Administration: $450 million for
Thus, a maximum exceeding $1.0 billion in mandatory
federal land acquisition, to include line-item acquisitions
spending for LWCF programs is available each year.
for the four agencies; $295 million for outdoor recreation
grants to states; and $155 million for other programs.
Under the GAOA, mandatory appropriations under the
LWCF Act are available “to carry out the purposes of the
Budgetary Implications of the Great
Fund,” including accounts and programs funded from the
American Outdoors Act
LWCF under P.L. 116-94. Division D of that law provided
FY2020 appropriations for Interior, Environment, and
P.L. 116-152 provides mandatory spending for activities
Related Agencies. It contained LWCF funding for purposes
that, in the past, have been funded with discretionary
including federal land acquisition, outdoor recreation grants
spending (i.e., through the annual appropriations process).
to states, the Forest Legacy program (administered by FS),
As a result, such funding would no longer be considered
the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund
within annual discretionary spending limits, such as the
(administered by FWS), the American Battlefield
statutory limits (currently through FY2021) and the
Protection Program (administered by NPS), and the DOI
appropriations subcommittee allocations under the
Appraisal and Valuation Services Office. It could be
Congressional Budget Act (2 U.S.C. §633). The
unclear as to whether the GAOA applies to the additional
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the law
funding specifications in the explanatory material for P.L.
would increase mandatory spending outlays by almost
116-94.
$5.9 billion over 6 years (FY2020-FY2025) and almost
$17.3 billion over 11 years (FY2020-FY2030). (The CBO
To allocate the funds, the GAOA generally requires the
estimate is available at https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/
President to submit annually to Congress “detailed account,
2020-07/HR1957directspending.pdf.)
program, and project allocations” for the full amount
available; for FY2021, the deadline was 90 days after
For Further Reading
enactment. GAOA provided for alternate allocations by
On DM, see CRS Report R43997, Deferred Maintenance of
Congress under a procedure similar to that described above
Federal Land Management Agencies: FY2009-FY2018
for the LRF.
Estimates and Issues, by Carol Hardy Vincent; and CRS
Report R44924, National Park Service Deferred
In addition to making the LWCF mandatory spending, P.L.
Maintenance: Frequently Asked Questions, by Laura B.
116-152 repealed a provision of the LWCF Act that had
Comay. On outer continental shelf revenues during
limited FS land acquisitions west of the 100th meridian.
COVID-19, see CRS In Focus IF11649, Federal Offshore
Following a 2019 report by the Government Accountability
Oil and Gas Revenues During the COVID-19 Pandemic, by
Office (GAO-20-175R) that FS acquisitions were not in
Laura B. Comay. On the LWCF, see CRS Report RL33531,
compliance with the 100th meridian provision, the FS began
Land and Water Conservation Fund: Overview, Funding
adhering to the provision. The repeal of the provision was
History, and Issues, by Carol Hardy Vincent. On the budget
intended to allow greater flexibility in acquiring lands for
process, including discretionary and mandatory
the National Forest System. Advocates of retaining the
appropriations, see CRS Report R46240, Introduction to the
100th meridian provision sought to limit acquisitions in the
Federal Budget Process, by James V. Saturno.
West, where most federal lands are located.
FY2021 Allocation
Carol Hardy Vincent, Specialist in Natural Resources
Policy
On November 9, 2020, the Secretary of the Interior issued
Laura B. Comay, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
S.O. 3388 with policies for DOI use of LWCF funds,
including new criteria, to the extent consistent with law and
Bill Heniff Jr., Analyst on Congress and the Legislative
regulation. For instance, federal land acquisitions would
Process
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The Great American Outdoors Act, P.L. 116-152

IF11636


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