Invasive Species:

Clearer Focus and Greater Commitment Needed to Effectively Manage the Problem

GAO-03-1: Published: Oct 22, 2002. Publicly Released: Oct 22, 2002.

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Harmful invasive species--nonnative plants and animals that are spreading throughout the United States--have caused billions of dollars in damage to natural areas, businesses, and consumers. In 2001, the federal government issued a National Invasive Species Management Plan to focus attention on invasive species and coordinate a national control effort involving the 20 or so federal agencies that are responsible for managing them. This report discusses the economic impacts of invasive species, implementation of the management plan, and coordination of U.S. and Canadian efforts to control invasive species, including those introduced to the Great Lakes via the ballast water of ships.

Existing literature on the economic impacts of invasive species is of limited usefulness to decision makers, although it indicates that the effects of invasive species are significant. Most economic estimates do not consider all of the relevant effects of nonnative species or the future risks that they pose. New initiatives may prompt more comprehensive analysis that could help decision makers make better resource allocations. While the National Invasive Species Management Plan calls for many actions that are likely to contribute to preventing and controlling invasive species in the United States, it does not clearly articulate specific long-term goals toward which the government should strive. In addition, the federal government has made little progress in implementing the actions called for by the plan. Even with high levels of compliance, U.S. regulations have not eliminated the introduction of invasive species into the Great Lakes via the ballast water of ships. The United States and Canada are working on strengthening the existing control system, but developing stronger regulations and the technology needed to meet them will take many years. The continued introduction of invasive species could have high economic and ecological costs for the Great Lakes.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Executive Director reported that the Council has received bids from outside organizations to conduct an evaluation of current legal authorities, but that it will not include an analysis of whether the lack of legislative authority establishing the Council and specifically directing its members to implement the national management plan hampers efforts to implement the plan. The Executive Director said that such an analysis was not necessary as there is now general agreement among the Council members and the advisory committee that legislative authority would strengthen the role of the Council and better enable it to get member agencies to implement the plan.

    Recommendation: To better manage the threats posed by invasive species in the United States, the cochairs of the National Invasive Species Council--the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and the Interior--should direct council members to include in its planned evaluation of current legal authorities an examination of whether the lack of legislative authority establishing the National Invasive Species Council and specifically directing its members to implement the national management plan hampers the council's efforts to implement the plan.

    Agency Affected: Invasive Species Council

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Council has developed an oversight mechanism that calls for National Invasive Species Council member agencies to submit implementation plans that describe how each will address their responsibilities under Executive Order 13112. The plans will be posted on the Internet. The oversight mechanism notes that the public is given the opportunity to comment on agencies' compliance with their duties under the Order. In addition, the mechanism calls upon the member agencies to submit annual reports containing, among other things, a summary of their accomplishments and a discussion of matters related to compliance with their duties under the Order.

    Recommendation: To better manage the threats posed by invasive species in the United States, the cochairs of the National Invasive Species Council--the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and the Interior--should direct council members to give a high priority to completing planned action #1, which calls for establishing a transparent oversight mechanism for use by federal agencies in complying with Executive Order 13112 and reporting on implementation of the management plan.

    Agency Affected: Invasive Species Council

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Executive Director for the National Invasive Species Council reported that the Council has prepared a revised management plan. The "roadmap" for revising the plan noted that "where practicable the revised plan should include performance-based elements and measurable goals or refer to those goals contained in the Invasive Species Performance-Based Crosscut Budget." The roadmap also noted that such changes would respond to OMB and GAO recommendations. According to the Executive Director, the draft revised national management plan will be sent to the Office of Management and Budget in September 2007 and will later be issued for public comment. The Executive Director and other Council staff informed GAO that the revision includes more performance oriented goals and measures of success. The Executive Director noted that, while adding these performance-oriented goals and measures are a good idea, doing so has increased the time needed to complete the draft plan.

    Recommendation: To better manage the threats posed by invasive species in the United States, the cochairs of the National Invasive Species Council--the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and the Interior--should direct council members to ensure that the updated version of the national management plan, due in January 2003, contains performance-oriented goals and objectives and specific measures of success.

    Agency Affected: Invasive Species Council

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Executive Director for the National Invasive Species Council reported that the Council recognizes the need to develop better economic information and has taken steps to address this issue. The Council's "roadmap" for revising the national invasive species management plan noted that "development of additional economic data should also be stressed." A draft revision to the National Invasive Species Management Plan has been completed and will be sent to OMB in September 2007. The Executive Director and other Council staff informed GAO that the draft revision includes objectives and planned actions to increase economic analysis and data regarding invasive species impacts, prevention and control methods.

    Recommendation: To better manage the threats posed by invasive species in the United States, the cochairs of the National Invasive Species Council--the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and the Interior--should direct council members to include within the revision to the National Invasive Species Management Plan a goal of incorporating information on the economic impacts and relative risks of different invasive species or pathways when formulating a crosscuting invasive species management budget for the federal government. Such a goal may require a commitment from the council to ensure that adequate resources are dedicated within the federal government to expand the capacity for conducting appropriate economic analysis.

    Agency Affected: Invasive Species Council

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: A review of 2003, 2004, and subsequent fiscal year performance plans issued by the Council member agencies did not find links to the action items in the National Invasive Species Management Plan. A draft revision to the National Invasive Species Management Plan is scheduled to be sent to OMB in September 2007. The "roadmap" for revising the plan includes a goal that agencies review the draft plan to compare identified priorities to their own agency planning, strategic, and budgetary documents. However, it is not evident that member agencies have adopted our recommendation and incorporated the management plan action items into their performance plans.

    Recommendation: To better ensure the implementation of the national management plan, the members of the National Invasive Species Council who are responsible for taking actions called for in the plan should recognize their responsibilities in either their departmental- or agency-level annual performance plans. The annual performance plans and performance reports should describe what steps the departments or their agencies will take or have taken to implement the actions that are specifically called for in the national management plan. For the existing (2001 version) of the national management plan, the member departments to which this applies include the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Defense, State, and Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Agency Affected: Invasive Species Council

 

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