Federal Land Management:

Additional Documentation of Agency Experiences with Good Neighbor Authority Could Enhance Its Future Use

GAO-09-277: Published: Feb 25, 2009. Publicly Released: Mar 25, 2009.

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In 2000, Congress authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service to allow the Colorado State Forest Service to conduct certain activities, such as reducing hazardous vegetation, on U.S. Forest Service land when performing similar activities on adjacent state or private land. The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) received similar "Good Neighbor" authority in 2004, as did the U.S. Forest Service in Utah. Congress has also considered the authority's expansion to other states. GAO was asked to determine (1) the activities conducted under the authority; (2) the federal and state guidance, procedures, and controls used to conduct Good Neighbor projects; and (3) successes, challenges, and lessons learned resulting from the authority's use. To do so, GAO reviewed Good Neighbor project documentation and interviewed federal and state officials.

Fifty-three projects were conducted under Good Neighbor authority through fiscal year 2008, including 38 in Colorado and 15 in Utah, with most of the projects (44 of 53) conducted on U.S. Forest Service land. These projects included hazardous fuel reduction on about 2,700 acres of national forest and about 100 acres of BLM land, mostly in Colorado, and the repair of firedamaged trails and watershed protection and restoration in Utah. Together, the two agencies spent about $1.4 million on these projects, split almost evenly between the two states. Although most projects involved contracting for services such as fuel reduction, some projects involved timber sales in which contractors purchased timber resulting from their fuel reduction activities. These timber sales occurred only in Colorado and totaled about $26,000. State procedures are used in conducting Good Neighbor projects that involve service contracts, while projects that include timber sales incorporate both state and federal requirements. Both Colorado and Utah have contracting requirements that generally address three fundamental principles of government contracting--transparency, competition, and oversight. For example, both states solicit competition among bidders and generally require service contracts to be awarded to the lowest-priced bidder meeting the contract criteria. State requirements were generally comparable to federal procurement requirements. When Good Neighbor projects involve timber sales, state procedures incorporate certain requirements that help the U.S. Forest Service account for state removal of federal timber. The U.S. Forest Service and Colorado are currently supplementing their joint Good Neighbor procedures to ensure that additional accountability provisions are included in future timber sale contracts. Neither BLM in Colorado nor the U.S. Forest Service in Utah has developed written procedures for conducting Good Neighbor timber sales, primarily because they have not sold timber under the authority. Such procedures could help ensure accountability for federal timber if future projects include such sales. Federal and state officials who have used Good Neighbor authority cited project efficiencies and enhanced federal-state cooperation as its key benefits. For example, the agencies cited their ability to improve the effectiveness of fuel reduction treatments in areas that include federal, state, and private ownership. Federal and state agencies have also encountered challenges such as a lack of understanding of the authority and complicated processes for approving Good Neighbor agreements. Agency officials and others also noted several factors to consider when conducting future Good Neighbor projects, whether in Colorado, Utah, or other states that may be granted the authority--including the type of projects to be conducted and the type of land to be treated. While the agencies are not required to document their experiences in using the authority, officials contemplating future use of the authority could benefit from such documentation--including information on successes, challenges, and lessons learned to date.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To enhance the agencies' use of Good Neighbor authority in Colorado and Utah as well as in states in which Good Neighbor projects may be authorized in the future, and if U.S. Forest Service officials in Utah or BLM officials in Colorado decide to conduct timber sales under Good Neighbor authority, or if timber sales are pursued under expanded Good Neighbor authority in additional states, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the agencies to first develop written procedures for Good Neighbor timber sales in collaboration with each state to better ensure accountability for federal timber. In doing so, the agencies may want to consult the U.S. Forest Service's Good Neighbor timber sale procedures for Colorado.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2010, updated procedures for timber sales conducted using Good Neighbor authority in Colorado were finalized. Forest Service officials stated that, based on discussions with officials in the state of Utah, the Colorado timber sale procedures will be used as a template for any future Good Neighbor timber sales in Utah. Specifically, according to these officials, if it appears that timber will be sold under Good Neighbor authority in Utah, the template will be amended with relevant Utah information and will be used in implementing such sales. Similarly, Forest Service officials stated that the Colorado procedures will serve as the template for any Good Neighbor timber sales conducted under that authority in states that may receive the authority in the future.

    Recommendation: To enhance the agencies' use of Good Neighbor authority in Colorado and Utah as well as in states in which Good Neighbor projects may be authorized in the future, and if U.S. Forest Service officials in Utah or BLM officials in Colorado decide to conduct timber sales under Good Neighbor authority, or if timber sales are pursued under expanded Good Neighbor authority in additional states, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the agencies to first develop written procedures for Good Neighbor timber sales in collaboration with each state to better ensure accountability for federal timber. In doing so, the agencies may want to consult the U.S. Forest Service's Good Neighbor timber sale procedures for Colorado.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2010, BLM implemented a guide for administering Good Neighbor projects. The "Good Neighbor Authority Desk Guide" includes written procedures for timber sales conducted using Good Neighbor authority in Colorado. These procedures are similar to those published in March 2010 by the U.S. Forest Service, which are also used for conducting timber sales under Good Neighbor authority in Colorado. Similar to the U.S. Forest Service, which plans to use its Colorado timber sale procedures as a template for any future Good Neighbor sales in Utah, BLM's procedures can serve as a template for timber sales conducted under Good Neighbor authority in states that may receive the authority in the future. The template can then be amended to include timber sale information unique to those states.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the U.S. Forest Service and BLM, in collaboration with their state Good Neighbor partners, to document how prior experiences with Good Neighbor projects offer ways to enhance the use of the authority in the future and make such information available to current and prospective users of the authority. Specifically, the U.S. Forest Service should collaborate with Colorado and Utah, and BLM should collaborate with Colorado, to document information such as (1) the types of projects that have proven to be successful uses of the authority; (2) how differences in the authority's scope within each state have affected project selection; (3) how project planning and implementation responsibilities have been divided among federal and state project partners; and (4) the costs and benefits associated with using Good Neighbor authority to conduct projects, including any project efficiencies and cost savings that have resulted from the authority's use. In addition, to ensure that this information is available to current and future users of the authority, the agencies should develop a strategic approach for disseminating it--for example, through agency Web sites, handbooks, training, or other means.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2012, U.S. Forest Service officials provided information on the actions they have taken to document how prior experiences with Good Neighbor projects offer ways to enhance the use of the Good Neighbor Authority in the future and how they have made such information available to current and prospective users of the authority. Specifically, on October 15, 2012, the Forest Service posted information on its Forests and Rangelands website regarding the Good Neighbor Authority that includes general information on Good Neighbor Authority, an information document on various aspects of Good Neighbor project management based on the agency's prior experiences, as well as a document outlining procedures for one type of project (timber sale) as an example. In addition, Forest Service officials stated that use of the Good Neighbor Authority has been increased in 2011-2012 within National Forests in Utah and Colorado, and training has taken place on its use. As a result, we consider this recommendation closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the U.S. Forest Service and BLM, in collaboration with their state Good Neighbor partners, to document how prior experiences with Good Neighbor projects offer ways to enhance the use of the authority in the future and make such information available to current and prospective users of the authority. Specifically, the U.S. Forest Service should collaborate with Colorado and Utah, and BLM should collaborate with Colorado, to document information such as (1) the types of projects that have proven to be successful uses of the authority; (2) how differences in the authority's scope within each state have affected project selection; (3) how project planning and implementation responsibilities have been divided among federal and state project partners; and (4) the costs and benefits associated with using Good Neighbor authority to conduct projects, including any project efficiencies and cost savings that have resulted from the authority's use. In addition, to ensure that this information is available to current and future users of the authority, the agencies should develop a strategic approach for disseminating it--for example, through agency Web sites, handbooks, training, or other means.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Open

    Comments: BLM published a "Good Neighbor Authority Desk Guide" in September 2010, which describes the development and administration of Good Neighbor projects and contracts, as well as the roles and responsibilities of BLM and State of Colorado offices in implementing projects. However, as we recommended, this guide does not document how prior experiences with the authority can enhance its future use. For example, this guide does not include discussion of any project efficiencies and cost savings that have resulted from the authorities use or specific information on why certain types of projects have been proven to be successful. As a result, we continue to believe it will be important for BLM to systematically collect and document information on its experiences using Good Neighbor authority, and that this information should go beyond that contained in its Desk Guide.

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