Restoring the Everglades:

Public Participation in Federal Efforts

RCED-96-5: Published: Oct 24, 1995. Publicly Released: Oct 24, 1995.

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Pursuant to congressional requests, GAO reviewed: (1) federal efforts to involve nonfederal stakeholders in environmental restoration efforts in South Florida; and (2) the lessons learned about federal and nonfederal collaboration and consensus-building in South Florida that might be applicable elsewhere.

GAO found that: (1) federal agencies have involved nonfederal stakeholders in their environmental restoration efforts in South Florida by making their meetings and draft products publicly available, establishing groups with nonfederal members, holding workshops, soliciting information from the public and then providing feedback on how it was used, and entering into formal mediation; (2) the working group of the Interagency Task Force on the South Florida Ecosystem includes state and tribal officials, but it does not include local officials and representatives of nongovernmental interests; (3) restrictions on and uncertainties about advisory committees have limited nonfederal interests in federal restoration efforts except those for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary; (4) nonfederal stakeholders prefer to present their environmental concerns during rather than after the development of federal environmental proposals; (5) external constraints often dictate the extent of nonfederal involvement in agency activities and preclude a consensus on appropriate solutions; and (6) the most federal agencies may be able to achieve is an open airing and full consideration of all views within the constraints imposed by external factors.

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: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Interagency Task Force on the South Florida Ecosystem to develop a strategy to extend formal participation in its working group and subgroups to local officials and representatives of South Florida's nongovernmental interests, including landowners, farmers, sportsmen, commercial fishermen, developers, and environmental organizations. One alternative would be to establish a citizens' advisory group to formally participate in the task force's effort and to promote public involvement and outreach. The task force should include its planned strategy in its next annual report.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a June 14, 1996, letter to GAO, the Department of the Interior's Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks stated that the Department accepted GAO's recommendations and had indicated a projected time line and responsible official to implement them. Specific actions include: (1) developing a strategy to extend formal participation in the task force's working group and subgroups to local officials and representatives of South Florida's nongovernmental interests within 6 months; and (2) including a section describing the effort and its status in the task force's next annual report.

    Recommendation: If the task force finds that formal participation by nongovernmental interests in federal restoration efforts continues to be limited by Executive Order 12838 and by the difficulty of determining when federal parties can meet with nongovernmental parties without being required to charter an advisory committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the task force should inform the General Services Administration's Committee Management Secretariat of the impact the two constraints are having on collaboration and consensus-building between federal and nonfederal parties and suggest alternatives to increase participation by nongovernmental interests.

    Agency Affected: Interagency Task Force on the South Florida Ecosystem

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In his June 14, 1996, letter to GAO, Interior's Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks stated that the Department will address any obstacles in achieving the strategy to extend formal participation in the task force's working group and subgroups to local officials and representatives of South Florida's nongovernmental interests to the General Services Administration's Committee Management Secretariat to seek its advice and guidance.

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