Sometimes in Washington you can't win for losing.

Several national parks and monuments -- including Utah's Timpanogos Cave, Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches -- have struggled for years with inadequate federal funding as their facilities deteriorated. Congress finally realized a drastic change in the budgetary process was necessary or the nation's 360 protected gems would erode into fool's gold.Recent federal legislation changed the law so that, instead of keeping a mere 15 percent of admission fees collected from visitors, 100 national parks and monuments now retain 80 percent. The balance is funneled into system-wide funds.

The change, still in experimental status, was welcome and wise and has already stabilized parks and monuments where it is implemented. It should be adopted throughout the National Park Service.

But now, in just its second year of existence, the program is being assailed by the General Accounting Office, which charges that some of the properties are rolling in excess dough and should give it back. To that, we simply say: Get lost.

To be more diplomatic, the GAO should give the process another year or two before making any adjustments. Federal auditors have suggested that lawmakers rethink the plan since parks with many visitors profit, while less-popular parks with bigger needs struggle. It cited Timpanogos Cave National Monument as one of those reaping undue prosperity. The GAO said it "is a smaller park and does not have a backlog of repair and maintenance needs."

That may be true for now, but needs change seasonally and from year to year. An extra $318,000 taken in at the cave in fiscal 1998 is not needed for infrastructure improvements, but monument managers plan to use the money to enhance visitor services by such things as providing more cave tours.

Anyone who has waited in long lines to go through the popular site, or who has been turned away at peak times, would say that is an excellent use of the additional revenue. Opinion surveys show people also are comfortable paying higher admission fees to parks and monuments as long as the money stays close to home. Any rescinding of the current 80-20 plan is likely to erode some, perhaps much, of that public support.

Zion, Arches and Bryce also were touted as wealthy beneficiaries of the experimental plan. Yet it makes sense that, over time, sites receiving heavy traffic will generally need more upkeepthan those infrequently visited.

There may be a need for initial budget adjustments to bring dilapidated facilities up to standard, but backing away from the 80-percent fee-retention plan should not be an option until the experimental program is given more time to sort itself out. Rushing in to "fix" things too quickly is often the Washington way -- a practice time and again proven inefficient and ineffective.