Fish and Wildlife Service:

Weaknesses in the Management of the Endangered Species Program Workload at the Carlsbad, California Field Office

T-RCED-00-293: Published: Sep 14, 2000. Publicly Released: Sep 14, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the implementation of the Endangered Species Act by the Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) field office in Carlsbad, California, focusing on: (1) how the Carlsbad office tracks its workload of consultations and habitat conservation plans (HCP); (2) to what extent the office is complying with FWS guidelines for completing formal consultations and HCP processing; and (3) the causes for delay when time frames are exceeded.

GAO noted that: (1) the Carlsbad office does not have effective systems for tracking its workload of consultations and HCPs; (2) to track consultations, GAO found that the office uses a manual system; (3) GAO estimates that this tracking system was either incomplete or inaccurate for 769, or 75 percent, of 1,026 informal and formal consultations that occurred from fiscal year (FY) 1992 through FY 1999; (4) for HCPs, the Carlsbad office has no tracking system of its own but relies on FWS' nationwide HCP database for tracking such plans; (5) GAO determined that the Carlsbad office did not always maintain its files in accordance with federal internal control standards and the FWS' guidelines; (6) to meet FWS guidelines, formal consultations must be completed within 135 days of being initiated unless extensions are requested and agreed to by affected parties; (7) about 129, or 36 percent, of 361 formal consultations exceeded 135 days; (8) there are no statutory, regulatory, or FWS guidelines requiring completion of informal consultations in a specified time frame; (9) FWS has, however, established guidelines for the completion of regional office review and approval of HCPs; (10) of 51 HCPs associated with the Carlsbad office, 15 were still ongoing or had been withdrawn; (11) furthermore, the Carlsbad office could not provide complete data to determine whether target timeframes were met for six plans; (12) to gain an understanding of why consultations and HCPs exceeded FWS guidelines, GAO analyzed 13 projects that were among those that took the longest time to complete; (13) GAO found evidence to suggest that the operations of the Carlsbad office could have affected the timeliness of consultations; and (14) several factors contributing to the delays included: (a) time associated with consultation and HCP negotiations between the applicant and the federal agencies involved about the actions needed to avoid, minimize, or offset a proposed activity's impact on listed species; (b) failure of the applicants to submit complete information to the Carlsbad office; (c) lost time associated with staff turnover and reassignment; and (d) in some cases, the action agency requests time extensions to get additional information from an individual.

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