Fish and Wildlife Service:

Agency Needs to Inform Congress of Future Costs Associated With Land Acquisitions

RCED-00-52: Published: Feb 15, 2000. Publicly Released: Feb 15, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on whether the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) established any refuge with migratory bird funds after Congress denied appropriations from land and water funds for a proposed refuge, focusing on: (1) which funds--land and water funds or migratory bird funds--FWS used to establish and expand refuges during this period; (2) how FWS set priorities for acquiring land with these funds; (3) whether FWS followed these priorities in requesting funding for this period; and (4) FWS' use of the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, which provides grants for nonfederal entities to acquire land associated with habitat conservation plans.

GAO noted that: (1) of the 23 refuges FWS established in fiscal years 1994 through 1998, only 8 used federal funds and no migratory bird funds were used; (2) the remaining 15 refuges were established with land that was donated, transferred, or exchanged; FWS had requested but not received land and water funds for 3 of these refuges; (3) FWS subsequently expanded 20 of the 23 refuges, using land and water funds totalling $29 million for 14 refuges, and donations, transfers, or exchanges for the remainder; (4) because FWS is not required to inform Congress when refuges are established without appropriated funds, Congress may not know of these refuges and lacks the information necessary to factor the costs for their subsequent expansion into its decisionmaking about land and water fund appropriations; (5) FWS also expects to incur future operations and maintenance costs for the newly established refuges, which will be covered by appropriated funds, but it is not required to provide Congress with estimates of these future costs at the time it establishes a new refuge; (6) FWS uses different priority-setting processes for acquiring land with the two funds; (7) for land and water funds, it uses an automated system that creates several lists of acquisitions proposed under different statutory purposes and merges these lists into a single national priority list; (8) FWS team members charged with revising the priority system said that the criteria for the system are subjective, result in little differentiation between the projects, and do not reflect the true relative ranking of the listed projects; (9) FWS is developing a revised system for setting priorities for land acquisition to resolve these problems; (10) for migratory bird funds, each of FWS' regional offices sets its own priorities, according to FWS criteria for managing waterfowl habitat and the office's opportunities for purchasing the land within a year of receiving funding; (11) in requesting land and water funds for fiscal years 1994 through 1998, FWS followed its national priority list for about three-quarters of the 106 projects it submitted for funding; (12) it selected projects in sequential order, beginning with the number one priority project; (13) for the migratory bird fund, FWS requested funding for projects it was likely to acquire within that year and had preliminary purchase contracts.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Fish and Wildlife Service included the requested information as part of the FY2001 budget submission and plans to continue to provide the information to the Congress in future years.

    Recommendation: To facilitate congressional oversight and enhance budget deliberations, the Secretary of the Interior should have the Director, FWS, annually provide legislative and appropriations committees with a list of all approved and proposed refuges and refuge boundary expansions--including those for which Congress declined to provide land and water funding. The list should identify, for each refuge: (1) estimated future requests for land and water funds; and (2) estimated future operations and maintenance costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FWS finalized the revised system and used it to develop its FY 2003 budget request for land and water funds.

    Recommendation: To facilitate congressional oversight and enhance budget deliberations, the Secretary of the Interior should have the Director, FWS, expeditiously implement the revised automated priority-setting system for land and water funds, ensuring that the revisions correct the problems identified in the system and that they meet the needs of FWS and congressional appropriators.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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