Washington, DC — At a hearing today, members of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry, led by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) expressed continuing concern that the Forest Service (USFS) has requested a $380 million budget increase to fund poorly planned initiatives, yet has not achieved fiscal and performance accountability.
In January of 1999, the General Accounting Office designated the Forest Service as an agency at "high risk" of waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement due to the unreliability of the agency's financial statements. More recently, the GAO stated that "the agency still faces several major hurdles before it can provide accurate and timely information on how much of its funds are spent on specific strategic goals and objectives and what it accomplished with the money."
"While I recognize the Forest Service's ongoing efforts to become more accountable, I remain deeply concerned about the financial and performance accountability of the agency," Goodlatte said. "For this reason, I intend to hold fast to the position taken by this committee last year that Congress simply cannot increase funding for an agency that is unable to adequately safeguard public investments."
In addition to accountability issues, the Subcommittee addressed agency priorities, the lack of budgetary support for the House-passed Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (H.R. 2389), and the effect of major rule makings and planning initiatives on the agency's budget, local resource managers, affected communities, and on-the-ground performance.
The USFS recently unleashed a series of major rulemaking and planning initiatives upon local managers and communities. Within the last six months, the agency has initiated public comment on at least five major rulemakings, each significantly affecting the management of the national forest system. The development of these proposals has consumed a large portion of the agency's budget, yet there is little evidence of thoughtful coordination in these efforts. The strain of these initiatives on the agency's budget and personnel is preventing project implementation, destroying agency credibility with affected communities, and threatening to further confuse the procedural maze that has tied up resource managers in a perpetual planning cycle.
"The Forest Service must be dedicated to sound, credible resource management and not political expediency," Goodlatte said. "We need leadership that will work with and support local managers and local communities, not stifle them. We need an agency that is fully accountable for what it achieves on the ground with taxpayer dollars, and that will work with, rather than against, Congress."