OODLATTE CRITICIZES FOREST SERVICE BUDGET REQUEST,
CITES LONG HISTORY OF ADMINISTRATIVE, POLICY FAILURES
At a hearing today, members of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry, led by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), catalogued the lack of accountability and policy failures in the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and criticized the agency for its $173 million funding increase request in the FY 2000 budget.
Since 1995, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspector General has issued more than twenty reports detailing a severe lack of financial accountability and performance failures. Most recently, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that: "Inefficiency and waste throughout the USDA's Forest Service's operations and organization have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. While the Forest Service has made progress in recent years, it is still far from achieving financial accountability and possibly a decade or more away from being fully accountable for its performance."
In response to this litany of administrative problems, Goodlatte called today's hearing to explore whether the USFS merits its requested $173 million funding increase and what the agency's priorities should be assuming current funding levels.
"To give the Forest Service more money out of hard-working taxpayers' pockets when it cannot account for how it will be spent would be an egregious breach of public trust," Goodlatte said.
Forty million acres of national forest are presently at a extreme risk of catastrophic wildfire and twenty-six million acres are at high risk of insect and disease infestation. Deferred road maintenance and reconstruction totals an estimated $8.4 billion and deferred maintenance on recreational facilities exceeds $1 billion. These figures constitute a restoration backlog of massive proportions that increasingly jeopardizes the ecological integrity of the forest and its ability to provide a full range of benefits to the public.
"It is my firm opinion that this forest restoration backlog should be the Forest Service's number one priority in this and future budget cycles until it has been fully addressed," Goodlatte said. "Unfortunately, however, I am not persuaded that such a priority exists in the agency's budget."
"The Administration's top priority seems to be its Lands Legacy Initiative which is an aggressive effort to spend over $100 million to acquire more federal land. That is an idea that is fundamentally flawed in view of the current condition of our forests. The agency simply should not spend scarce resources buying land when it cannot afford to manage the land it already has," Goodlatte said.
Goodlatte represents Virginia's Sixth Congressional District, which includes Roanoke, Lynchburg, and the Shenandoah Valley.