Wildlife Protection:

Fish and Wildlife Service's Inspection Program Needs Strengthening

RCED-95-8: Published: Dec 29, 1994. Publicly Released: Dec 29, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) wildlife inspection program, focusing on the: (1) effectiveness of the wildlife inspection program; (2) potential impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on wildlife trade and wildlife shipment inspections; and (3) advantages and disadvantages that might accrue from transferring the inspection program to the Customs Service.

GAO found that: (1) FWS has not fully met its wildlife inspection program mission of monitoring and intercepting illegal wildlife shipments despite recent budget increases; (2) the FWS inspection program needs more wildlife inspectors, safety equipment, and administrative support; (3) FWS does not have complete, accurate, and timely data on the inspection program; (4) FWS has proposed increasing user fees to produce additional program funding; (5) the government's failure to assess penalties, fines, and other punitive actions against violators does little to deter new offenses and lowers inspectors' morale; (6) budget cuts and downsizing efforts further jeopardize the program's inspection mission; (7) NAFTA is likely to increase wildlife trade among the treaty parties, which will increase the wildlife inspectors' workload; (8) FWS believes NAFTA will have the greatest impact at the Mexican border; (9) transferring the wildlife inspection program to Customs would provide greater inspection coverage due to Customs' larger, more dispersed inspection force and automated inspection system; and (10) the disadvantages of transferring the inspection program to Customs include Customs inspectors' lack of wildlife identification expertise, Customs' likely failure to emphasize wildlife inspection, difficulties in coordinating with FWS to protect endangered species, and potential increased costs.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • 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 ensure that the wildlife inspection program is better able to accomplish its mission and that its current resources are more efficiently and effectively used, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, FWS, to identify the principal reasons for the lack of more frequent and effective pursuit of wildlife inspection program violations and, in conjunction with the Department of the Interior's Office of the Solicitor and the Department of Justice, determine what measures can be taken, within existing resources and funding constraints, to make law enforcement efforts more efficient and effective.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FWS law enforcement staff created a series of reports designed to identify penalty information related to import/export violations that were adjudicated from October 1, 1995, through July 11, 1997. These reports were provided to the Office of the Solicitor and the Department of Justice in a meeting held on July 29, 1997. In the future, similar reports will be provided to both offices on an annual basis.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the wildlife inspection program is better able to accomplish its mission and that its current resources are more efficiently and effectively used, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, FWS, to conduct a comprehensive examination of the operations of each of the designated and the nondesignated ports of entry and the size and level of accompanying resources currently allocated to each of these ports, looking for ways in which the allocation of resources might be adjusted to respond to current needs at the specific ports and to improve the program's overall efficiency and effectiveness.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During 1995, FWS conducted an agencywide analysis of workload factors and performance indicators for all of its activities, including the wildlife inspector program. At this time, no changes are proposed to port staffing levels.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the wildlife inspection program is better able to accomplish its mission and that its current resources are more efficiently and effectively used, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, FWS, to give priority to the completion of current FWS plans to improve the timeliness, accuracy, and completeness of the information contained in its Law Enforcement Management Information System, including the information relating to: (1) the levels and trends in wildlife trade; (2) port of entry inspection rates and inspector productivity; (3) results of inspections, including fines and penalties assessed; and (4) repeat wildlife trade violators.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Service's centralized data entry system, which commenced on December 6, 1995, has improved the timeliness, accuracy, and completeness of the information contained in LEMIS relating to the wildlife inspection program. Data relating to the levels and trends in wildlife trade, port of entry inspection rates and inspector productivity, results of inspections, and repeat wildlife trade violators are available.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the wildlife inspection program is better able to accomplish its mission and that its current resources are more efficiently and effectively used, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, FWS, to develop outcome-oriented, performance-related goals that are indicative of an effective inspection program and take into account not only the number of shipments processed and inspected, but also such things as the extensiveness of the inspections performed and the results of those inspections.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Goals relating to the inspection program are reviewed and established annually. During fiscal year 1997, the program's primary goal is to physically inspect an average of 250 wildlife shipments per inspector. Investigative case hours and outreach initiatives will also be measured during fiscal year 1997. In addition, volume and physical inspection rates are monitored at the national, regional, port of entry, and individual inspector levels each year as an indicator of the effectiveness of the wildlife inspection program.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the wildlife inspection program is better able to accomplish its mission and that its current resources are more efficiently and effectively used, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, FWS, to proceed with plans to increase the user fees charged by the wildlife inspection program and apply the increased funding to those areas where resource needs have been identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FWS published proposed rules to revise user fees under the wildlife inspection program in March 1995. The final rule implementing the increased user fees was finalized and signed by the Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks on February 6, 1996. The revised fees became effective on August 1, 1996, and full implementation of the rule is expected by October 1, 1996. The funding received from the increased fees will be used to reimburse FWS for the cost of providing inspection services.

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