South Florida Ecosystem Restoration:

An Overall Strategic Plan and a Decision-Making Process Are Needed to Keep the Effort on Track

RCED-99-121: Published: Apr 22, 1999. Publicly Released: Apr 22, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Initiative, focusing on: (1) how much and for what purposes federal funding was provided for the restoration of the South Florida ecosystem from fiscal year (FY) 1993 through FY 1999; and (2) how well the restoration effort is being coordinated and managed.

GAO noted that: (1) on the basis of the data GAO obtained from the 5 primary federal departments and agencies participating in the initiative, GAO estimates that over $1.2 billion in federal funds was provided from FY 1993 through FY 1999; (2) the key restoration activities undertaken by the federal agencies were: (a) land acquisition; (b) the management of federally-owned facilities or natural resources, and a national marine sanctuary; (c) infrastructure projects; and (d) science-related activities; (3) over 75 percent of the federal expenditures during this 6-year period have been made by agencies within the Department of the Interior and by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; (4) the federal funding provided to date represents only a down payment; (5) while no official cost projection for the total restoration effort has been made, a major component, the implementation of the Central and Southern Florida Project Comprehensive Review Study, referred to as the Restudy, is estimated to cost an additional $7.8 billion; (6) the Restudy is designed to substantially increase the amount of water that is delivered to natural areas while enhancing agricultural and urban water supplies; (7) according to the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force's executive director, at least $2 billion beyond the $7.8 billion will be needed to complete the restoration effort; (8) this money will be used to acquire additional lands, construct other infrastructure projects, and eradicate exotic plant species; (9) the Task Force is responsible for coordinating the participating entities' implementation of the initiative; (10) however, a strategic plan that clearly lays out how the initiative will be accomplished and includes quantifiable goals and performance measures has not yet been developed; (11) the Task Force is a coordinating body, not a decisionmaking body, and thus is limited in its ability to manage and make decisions for the overall restoration effort; (12) as GAO's review of two projects integral to the restoration effort indicates, even with coordination, the federal and state agencies involved are unable to agree on components of these projects; (13) their inability to agree has contributed to delays and cost overruns; and (14) given the scope and complexity of the initiative and the difficulties that have already been encountered, additional delays and cost overruns are likely to occur, and the participants' ability to accomplish the initiative's overall goals is at risk.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In 2000, the Department of the Interior, which chairs the Task Force, developed and presented recommendations to the Task Force to improve overall conflict resolution. The Task Force then directed the formation of an expert panel, which provided conflict resolution recommendations to the Task Force in 2001. Subsequently, the Task Force directed its Working Group to follow up on the panel's recommendations. The Working Group established a Dispute Resolution Protocol Team that developed protocols, procedures, and guidance for a conflict resolution process in 2003, but the Task Force did not approve the process the team developed. According to the Department of the Interior, institutional membership on the Task Force has been constant, and the Task Force has benefited from the resulting capacity and experience, including for resolving conflicts. Thus, while the Task Force did not approve a formal conflict resolution process, according to Interior, over time, agencies and stakeholders have learned to classify conflicts into those that can be resolved between individual actors and those which require policy engagement at the Task Force level.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the South Florida ecosystem is restored in a timely and efficient manner, the Secretary of the Interior, as the Chairperson of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, in conjunction with the other members of the Task Force, should work with the organizations and entities participating in the restoration effort to develop and agree upon a decisionmaking process to resolve conflicts in order to accomplish the initiative in a timely and efficient manner.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force issued its strategic plan on July 31, 2000.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the South Florida ecosystem is restored in a timely and efficient manner, the Secretary of the Interior, as the Chairperson of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, in conjunction with the other members of the Task Force, should develop a strategic plan that will: (a) outline how the restoration of the South Florida ecosystem will occur; (b) identify the resources needed to achieve the restoration; (c) assign accountability for accomplishing actions; and (d) link the strategic goals established by the Task Force to outcome-oriented annual goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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