Fish and Wildlife Service:

Management and Oversight of the Federal Aid Program Needs Attention

T-RCED-99-259: Published: Jul 20, 1999. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the management and oversight of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Wildlife Restoration Program, focusing on: (1) how administrative funds are used and monitored; and (2) whether there is adequate oversight of the funds provided to the states.

GAO noted that: (1) administrative funds are used for many purposes, such as for employee travel and for special types of grants; (2) in each area where administrative funds are used, there are problems; (3) these included ineffective management oversight, inadequate internal controls, and inadequate policies and procedures for reviewing and approving administrative expenditures; (4) collectively, these conditions have spawned a culture of permissive spending; (5) as a result, it appears that some of the administrative funds have been spent unnecessarily and ineffectively; (6) this situation raises questions about whether the Office of Federal Aid is meeting its management responsibilities; (7) since fiscal year 1996, the Office has spent about $4.4 million on audits to ensure that the states and territories use fish and wildlife restoration funds consistent with the purposes of the programs; (8) audits completed to date, involving 21 states, yielded returns of about $5.4 million, with another $9.6 million pending resolution; (9) while GAO commends the Office for undertaking this important oversight effort, GAO's work to date has identified some concerns about the process used to resolve problems uncovered by the audits of two states; (10) according to the audits, these two states misused funds; (11) however, according to program officials, the repayment actions being planned may not hold the states accountable for their actions; (12) for example, grants generally are funded 25 percent by the state and 75 percent by the Federal Aid Program; (13) program officials informed GAO that, in these two instances, the regional office is planning to allow the states to offset their repayment obligations by crediting the states for payments in excess of the states' share on closed grants; (14) it is not clear whether this approach complies with program requirements; and (15) the actions could be precedent-setting, and if incorrect, could diminish the deterrent effect of the audits.

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