The Results Act:

Observations on the Forest Service's May 1997 Draft Plan

T-RCED-97-223: Published: Jul 31, 1997. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Forest Service's draft strategic plan, as required by the Government Performance and Results Act, focusing on: (1) the need to hold the Forest Service accountable for its performance; (2) the importance of agreed-upon, long-term strategic goals to the successful implementation of the act and the reasons for the current lack of agreement on these goals; and (3) GAO's observations on how the Forest Service can improve critical components, including the strategic goals component, of its draft plan, to make it more informative and useful to the Congress and other stakeholders.

GAO noted that: (1) its report on the Forest Service's decision-making identifies an organizational culture of indifference toward accountability; (2) the agency's historically decentralized management and recently increased flexibility in fiscal decision-making have not been accompanied by sufficient accountability for expenditures and performance; (3) as a result, inefficiency and waste have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, and opportunities for both ecological and economic gains have been lost through indecision and delay; (4) past efforts by the Forest Service to change its behavior have not been successful; (5) decision-making within the agency is broken and in need of repair; (6) the Results Act, if implemented successfully, should help break the existing cycle of inefficiency within the Forest Service; (7) the strategic goals in the Forest Service's plan form the starting point and foundation for holding the agency accountable for its performance; (8) hence, these goals are critical to successfully implementing the act within the agency; (9) however, agreement has not been reached on the strategic goals in the Forest Service's plan; (10) this lack of agreement reflects the controversy, both inside and outside the forest Service, over: (a) which uses to emphasize under the agency's broad multiple-use and sustained-yield mandate; and (b) which management approach can best ensure the long-term sustainability of legislatively mandated uses on the national forests; (11) as a result, the agency cannot begin to derive the benefits anticipated from implementing the act; (12) the consultations with the Congress prescribed by the Results Act provide an opportunity for the Forest Service to better explain: (a) its rationale for emphasizing some legislatively mandated uses on the national forests more than other uses; (b) the logic underlying its approach to managing natural resources; and (c) the likely effects of its policy choices on the types, levels and mixes of uses on its lands; and (13) however, the Forest Service's plan is silent on these issues.

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