Forest Service:

Actions Needed for the Agency to Become More Accountable for Its Performance

T-RCED-00-236: Published: Jun 29, 2000. Publicly Released: Jun 29, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the: (1) status of efforts by the Forest Service to become more accountable for what it accomplishes with appropriated funds; and (2) actions still needed for the agency to provide Congress and the public with a better understanding of its performance.

GAO noted that: (1) to become more accountable for its performance, the Forest Service will need to link its budget and organizational structures as well as its budget allocation criteria, forest plans, and performance measures to its strategic goals, objectives, and strategies; (2) however, the agency is still years away from completing these linkages; (3) for example, the Forest Service continues to budget and allocate most of its appropriated funds to its field offices on the basis of nine separate programs, many of which are not linked to either its strategic plan or the way that work is routinely accomplished on the national forests; (4) in addition, even though forest plans are intended to serve as a basis for developing future budget proposals, the Forest Service has not determined how or if the national forests will blend agencywide objectives and strategies with local priorities in revising their plans; (5) moreover, instead of developing new performance measures and improving existing ones to better align them with its strategic goals and objectives and its on-the-ground projects and work activities, the agency is relying on old program-based performance measures; (6) many of these measures are not clearly linked to the Forest Service's strategic goals and objectives and do not always adequately assess the outputs, service levels, and outcomes that the agency intends to achieve; (7) as a result, Congress and other interested parties do not have an adequate measure of the Forest Service's funding needs or of its progress toward achieving its strategic goals and objectives; (8) to provide Congress and the public with a better understanding of what it accomplishes with appropriated funds, the Forest Service will need to make performance accountability a priority within the agency; (9) to do so, the Forest Service will need to provide a strong leadership, a cohesive strategy, and firm deadlines for correcting known deficiencies; (10) one component of such a strategy would be to replace the agency's current program structure with one that is better linked to its strategic goals and objectives, proposed budget structure, and the way of accomplishing work routinely on the national forests; (11) Congress could provide an incentive to the Forest Service to become more accountable for its performance by requiring that any further revisions to the agency's budget coincide with actions by the Forest Service to correct known performance-related deficiencies; and (12) Congress could also help to expedite the process by requiring that the agency develop a firm schedule to implement these actions.

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