Forest Service:

Alaska Region's Operating Costs for Fiscal Years 1993 Through 1998

T-RCED-98-227: Published: Jul 28, 1998. Publicly Released: Jul 28, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed: (1) the National Forest Service's Alaska Region's allocation of funds for its operating costs for fiscal year (FY) 1993 through FY 1998; (2) the nature, purpose, and allocation of centralized field costs and the steps the Alaska Region is taking to comply with the congressional limitation on the expenditures for the regional office and centralized field costs; (3) the rationale for and the distribution of regional reserve funds; and (4) whether the Forest Service's National Forest System and Research appropriations were used appropriately to pay for work performed by the Pacific Northwest Research Station in connection with the revision of the Tongass Land Management Plan and for post-plan studies.

GAO noted that: (1) the Alaska Region's operating costs ranged from $108 million to $127 million annually during FY 1993 through FY 1997; (2) the region allocated 71 to 76 percent of these funds to field offices carrying out local programs, 13 to 17 percent for managing regional office operations, 4 to 7 percent for centralized field costs, 2 to 5 percent for regional reserves, and 2 to 4 percent for state and private forestry operations; (3) for FY 1998, the region's estimated allocations totalled about $106 million to carry out these regional programs; (4) until FY 1998, the Alaska Region used centralized field costs to manage certain programs or activities for the benefit of multiple offices; (5) the Forest Service's FY 1998 appropriations act limited the Alaska Regional Office's expenditures for regional office operations and centralized field costs to $17.5 million; (6) to comply with this legislative requirement, the Alaska Region eliminated the use of the centralized field cost category, included unallocated funds in regional reserve accounts until the funds are distributed to the field units, and separated the costs for state and private forestry operations from the operations of the regional office; (7) the Alaska Region establishes reserves because of the uncertainty about the timing or the amount of funds needed for certain projects; (8) once the specific amount or responsible unit is determined, the region distributes the necessary reserves to the unit responsible for making the payment; (9) any ending balance in the reserve category becomes the carryover amount for the next fiscal year; (10) beginning in FY 1995, both the Alaska Region's portion of the National Forest System appropriation and the Pacific Northwest Research Station's portion of the Forest and Rangeland Research appropriation funded the work performed by the Research Station scientists on the revision of the Tongass Land Management Plan and post-plan studies; (11) documentation of the rationale for decisions about the funding split for particular work performed by the research scientists could not be provided; and (12) GAO could not determine whether the National Forest System and Research appropriations were used appropriately or inappropriately for FY 1995 through FY 1998.

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