Editor’s note: In June, California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird and California State Parks Director Major General Anthony L. Jackson, USMC (Ret.), unveiled Parks Forward, a collaborative initiative to undertake a top-to-bottom evaluation to improve and sustain California’s State Parks system.

The effort responded to several issues involving misappropriation of the agency’s funding and a March 2013 recommendation from California’s Little Hoover Commission report urging a new operating model.

This article summarizes the analytical findings from FTI Consulting, a private consulting firm, of the department’s financial processes, systems and management.

The results suggest future opportunities to grow revenue, but management of expenses will have to significantly improve to result in an agency that can be dependable and respected.

The revelation that the California Parks and Recreation had concealed the availability of millions of dollars damaged the department’s reputation, and this report reveals that management of funding lacks basic tools.

The report stated, “Opportunity exists to improve cost tracking and reporting, and to make data accessible to divisions in electronic formats with consistent information. We encountered significant challenges in extracting basic expenditure data in an electronic format, by function and program area, and in reconciling it to the governor’s budget.”

While the agency can identify which parks are generating its revenue, it has a more difficult time identifying how the funds are spent. “FTI encountered significant difficulty in obtaining very basic expenditure information from [CPR] which no doubt hampers the ability of management to effectively manage the performance of the organization.”

FTI was optimistic that CPR could increase its revenue collections, but stressed that most fees come from a few parks, and mostly ones with beach or water features.

State funding should be available for the basic operating costs for the system, but the department needs to improve its ability to monitor and manage these expenditures.

For example, FTI found the lack of park unit costs hampers efficient management of resources and staff.

The firm also encouraged the agency to review its staffing configuration. CPR identifies about 30 percent of staff at headquarters and the balance as field positions, including division staff in the north and south regions of the state. However, FTI noted, “The ratio of headquarters positions to total positions appears to be on the high side of the range when compared with other large state park systems.”

In addition, FTI concluded that nearly half of the CPR workforce is aged 50 or more. Consequently, a large number of retirements and workforce turnover will occur in the next decade and CPR does not have a plan for this impending change.

CPR and the Parks Forward Commission are reviewing these reports. The next commission meeting is April 30 in San Francisco.