WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congressman Bob Smith (R-OR), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, announced at a hearing today that he will introduce legislation to reduce Forest Service overhead costs and restore fiscal accountability within the agency.
Today's hearing revealed that the Forest Service Federal Timber Sale Program's overhead costs have increased by 50 percent over the last five years. Overhead costs now comprise one-third of the program's total costs. In two previous hearings the Committee learned that off-budget funds administered by the Forest Service are being charged an annual overhead rate of 27 percent. This accounts for one-third of the agency's road construction and reconstruction costs.
"Recreationists, wildlife advocacy groups, environmentalists, and forest products companies have testified that the agency is achieving fewer outputs despite increases in their budget...In short, rather than spending more money to deliver a quality product to the American taxpayer, the Forest Service is spending more money to line the pockets of bureaucrats," Smith said.
Today's hearing was the third in a series designed to identify trends in overhead and total costs attributed to programs administered by the Forest Service and determine their effects on forest management. The hearings will also examine legislative solutions to the problem of rising overhead and lack of fiscal accountability within the agency.
"Many have incorrectly argued that the solution to this problem is to eliminate the timber sale program. This ignores, rather than solves the problem. If we eliminate every Forest Service program plagued by excessive costs and skyrocketing overhead then, in the end, we will be forced to eliminate all of them. The big losers at the end of the day, under this way of thinking, are the taxpayers who are the constituents of our national forests," Smith said.
Smith plans to introduce legislation to increase the accountability of the Forest Service by reducing costs, limiting overhead, and becoming more responsive to Congress and taxpayers. His legislation will:
require the Forest Service to account annually for the costs associated with all of the programs it administers;
impose immediate limitations on the overhead the agency may charge to off-budget funds;
instruct the Forest Service to fully disclose in each year's budget request the amount of overhead implicit in each budget line item;
direct the Forest Service, in cooperation with the General Accounting Office and USDA Office of
Inspector General to develop a five-year strategic plan for identifying and reducing overhead and unnecessary costs, and
5.Require periodic GAO audits of the implementation of the strategic plan and corresponding reports to Congress;
"Congress' objective should be to discipline the agency, not punish forest constituents. In the end, this bill will produce less waste, greater efficiency, and free up more dollars for on-the-ground forest management. This is a win for good forest management, a win for the Forest Service and, most importantly, a win for the millions of Americans who live, work, and recreate in our national forests everyday," Smith said.
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District — which includes most of eastern, central, and southern Oregon — in the U.S. House of Representatives. The district is home to ten national forests.