WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congressman Bob Smith (R-OR), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, at a full committee hearing today criticized the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) for increasing overhead costs of five off-budget funds while the proportion of funds directed to on-the-ground management have decreased.
Earlier this year, the Agriculture Committee requested that the General Accounting Office (GAO) investigate five off-budget funds administered by the Forest Service between 1993 and 1997. The study determined the amount of overhead charged to these accounts and whether these amounts have increased relative to forest restoration activities. The funds investigated by the GAO pay for reforestation, habitat improvements, road maintenance, insect and disease eradication and include the Brush Disposal Fund, the Knutson-Vandenberg Fund, the Salvage Sale Trust Fund, the Reforestation Trust Fund, and the Cooperative Work — Other Fund.
The GAO study found that total expenditures from the five funds from 1993-1997 have remained relatively constant while overhead charges have increased 80 percent from $65.9 million in 1993 to $118.7 million in 1997. In addition, as a percentage of total expenditures, overhead expenses have increased from 15.9 percent in 1993 to 27.1 percent in 1997.
"The Forest Service has a fiduciary and a management responsibility to the American people. These are trust funds. The Forest Service is a trustee. In the private sector, when a trustee takes money from the trust corpus to line his own pockets, we call it self-dealing. It is a crime. The Forest Service should be held to an equally strict standard," Smith said.
"The lack of on-the-ground management including adequate restoration activities have left much of our forests, streams, watersheds, and transportation infrastructure in severe disrepair. At a minimum, it is ironic that while the agency is requesting additional funding for forest restoration, it has allowed overhead costs to skyrocket out of control," Smith said.
"In a recent National Journal article, Chief Dombeck stated that 'we can't put the cost of management on the back of timber.' I am disappointed that Mr. Dombeck is not here today for me to tell him that is time for him to get his bureaucracy off the back of critical restoration programs," 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.