The Recreation Fees and Improvements Act of 1982
The several congressional initiatives of 1978-1980 restricting fee collection ]and administrative control over receipts flew in the face of President Jimmy Carter's Office of Management and Budget and Interior Department leadership. On this issue, President Ronald Reagan's appointees agreed totally with their predecessors. Under even greater pressure to cut domestic spending, they saw park fees as a logical way of offsetting general revenue appropriations for this discretionary category of the Federal budget.
Under orders to respond to what Congress had wrought, the Service's legislative office prepared and circulated for comment within the agency a draft "Park and Recreation Revenue Act of 1982" in December 1981. The draft bill would increase the $10 ceiling on the Golden Eagle Passport, make entrance and user fee receipts available to the collecting agency for authorized outdoor recreation functions without further appropriation, make VTS fees available without appropriation for VTS establishment and enhancement only, and repeal inconsistent provisions of existing law, including the general entrance fee freeze and the several park-specific fee prohibitions. 
The proposed bypass of the congressional appropriations process was judged unrealistic; it was also inconsistent with the response received from OMB to the Service's fiscal 1983 budget request. In addition to repeal of the freeze and the Golden Eagle ceiling, OMB wanted fee revenues subject to annual appropriations to offset funding from general revenues. It also sought repeal of the legislated criteria for user charges in the 1974 Land and Water Conservation Fund Act amendment. 
The bill was revised to have fee revenues, including concession franchise, returned to a special account available for appropriation to the collecting agency; unlike past practice, 20 percent of the revenues would be earmarked for the collecting park or area, while the rest would go for "restoration and improvement of visitor use facilities" generally. The minimum standards for camping fees would be removed, and the Golden Eagle ceiling would go to $25.
Meanwhile, Interior's Policy, Budget, and Administration (PBA) secretariat, traditionally allied with OMB in support of higher fees, was promoting the cause to Secretary James G. Watt:
In commenting on the Service's revised draft bill, PBA declared the $25 Golden Eagle still too inexpensive and favored discontinuation of the annual pass and per-vehicle fee approach as insufficiently productive of revenue. It recommended deauthorization of the Golden Eagle and substitution of general language allowing the Secretary to develop "multiple visit entrance permits" on a per capita basis. It opposed the 20 percent provision as too restrictive. It wanted authority to charge for back-country camping, canoeing, and rafting. So that fee revenues would not be used to offset general appropriations and thus impair the Service's incentive to collect, it proposed an agreement with OMB to hold the NPS budget at the 1983 level (possibly indexed for inflation) for the next five years, during which increases would come from fees. 
At a meeting attended by Secretary Watt, Assistant Secretary G. Ray Arnett (Fish and Wildlife and Parks), and Deputy Assistant Secretary William D. Bettenberg (PBA) on January 5, 1982, agreement was reached to rework the bill generally in accordance with PBA's recommendations.  The bill was put in final form at OMB after another meeting there with representatives of Interior, Agriculture, and the Corps of Engineers; it was transmitted to Congress on February 22 retitled "Recreation Fees and Improvements Act of 1982."
The transmittal letters to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, signed by Secretary Watt, Secretary of Agriculture John R. Block, and Secretary of the Army John O. Marsh, Jr., declared the administration bill "necessary for full implementation of the President's program for economic recovery." Noting that existing fee revenues covered only four percent of the cost of public recreation areas and facilities, they estimated an increase to ten percent under the proposed legislation. The bill would accomplish this by
Among the provisions in the bill was one authorizing the several agency heads " to require an admission permit for the occupancy and use of Federal lands for hunting and fishing...." When this reached the responsible congressional committees, reaction was immediate and emphatic. Only four days after its transmittal, Secretary Watt wrote the presiding officers of Congress asking that the bill be withdrawn. The bill had been misunderstood to prescribe Federal hunting and fishing licenses, he said:
"Thank you for forcefully bringing to our attention your objections to our recent submission to the Congress on recreation fees..., " Assistant to the Secretary Stanley W. Hulett wrote simultaneously to Senator James A. McClure of Idaho, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "It was our intention to expand the Golden Eagle Passport by allowing its use for entry into federal hunting and fishing areas where entry fees are already charged." 
1Memorandum, Chief, Office of Legislation to NPS Associate Director, Management and Operations, Dec. 4, 1981, NPS Office of Legislation,, Washington, D.C. (hereinafter cited as WASO-170).
7Letters, Watt to Bush and O'Neill, Feb. 26, 1982, WASO-170; letter, Hulett to McClure, Feb. 26, 1982, WASO-170. The explanations given were confused if not disingenuous. Entrance fees were levied in no areas where hunting was permitted. At all areas where entrance fees were charged, including those with fishing, the Golden Eagle already served for admission. The only way use of the Golden Eagle would be expanded for hunters and fishermen was to charge for previously free hunting and fishing areas--the clear purpose of the offending provision.