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entitled 'Wildland Fire Management: Update on Federal Agency Efforts to 
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United States Government Accountability Office: 
Washington, DC 20548:

May 1, 2006:

The Honorable Charles H. Taylor:
Chairman:
The Honorable Norman D. Dicks:
Ranking Minority Member:
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies:
Committee on Appropriations:
House of Representatives:

Subject: Wildland Fire Management: Update on Federal Agency Efforts to 
Develop a Cohesive Strategy to Address Wildland Fire Threats:

The wildland fire problems facing our nation continue to grow. The 
number of acres burned by wildland fires annually from 2000 to 2005 was 
70 percent greater than the average burned annually during the 1990s, 
while appropriations for the federal government's wildland fire 
management activities tripled from about $1 billion in fiscal year 1999 
to nearly $3 billion in fiscal year 2005. Experts believe that 
catastrophic damage from wildland fire probably will continue to 
increase until an adequate long-term federal response, coordinated with 
others, is implemented and has had time to take effect.

In the past 7 years, the federal government has made important progress 
in putting into place basic components of a framework for managing and 
responding to the nation's wildland fire problems. Many challenges lie 
ahead, however, if the federal agencies having primary responsibility 
for managing wildland fire issues--the Forest Service within the 
Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), 
Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and 
National Park Service (NPS) within the Department of the Interior--are 
to address the problems in a timely and effective manner. Most notably, 
as we reported in January 2005,[Footnote 1] the agencies need to 
develop a cohesive strategy that identifies the available long-term 
options and related funding requirements for reducing excess vegetation 
that could fuel wildland fires and for responding to wildland fires 
when they occur. The agencies and the Congress need such a strategy in 
order to make informed decisions about an effective and affordable long-
term approach for addressing problems that have been decades in the 
making and will take decades more to resolve.

In our January 2005 report, recognizing that the development of a 
cohesive strategy that includes long-term options and funding was 
itself a long-term effort, we recommended that the Secretaries of 
Agriculture and the Interior provide the Congress with a joint tactical 
plan outlining the critical steps the agencies planned to take, 
together with related time frames, to complete such a cohesive 
strategy. In responding to that report, officials from Agriculture and 
Interior said they would produce an initial tactical plan by August 
2005.

Our prior work also identified several tasks, each with its own 
challenges, that the agencies must complete prior to implementing such 
a strategy, including:

* finishing data systems needed to identify the extent, severity, and 
location of wildland fire threats to the nation's communities and 
ecosystems;

* updating local fire management plans to better specify the actions 
needed to effectively address these threats; and:

* assessing the cost-effectiveness and affordability of options for 
reducing fuels.

In this context, you asked us to provide information on (1) the 
progress that the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior have made 
over the past year in developing a tactical plan outlining the steps 
and time frames needed to complete a cohesive strategy for addressing 
wildland fire threats, as we recommended; and (2) the agencies' efforts 
to address the challenges GAO believes they are likely to face as they 
develop this cohesive strategy. To obtain this information, we reviewed 
agency documents regarding wildland fire management activities and 
interviewed federal and nonfederal officials knowledgeable about the 
agencies' wildland fire management efforts. We conducted our work in 
March and April 2006 in accordance with generally accepted government 
auditing standards.

Results in Brief:

The agencies have not prepared a tactical plan outlining the critical 
steps and associated time frames for completing a cohesive wildland 
fire management strategy, as we recommended. And while the agencies 
completed a February 2006 interagency document entitled "Protecting 
People and Natural Resources: A Cohesive Fuels Treatment Strategy," 
this document does not identify long-term options and related funding 
needed for reducing fuels and responding to wildland fires when they 
occur, as we called for. Agency officials initially told us that they 
would not be able to produce such a strategy because the Office of 
Management and Budget (OMB) does not allow them to publish long-term 
cost estimates--thus rendering a tactical plan unnecessary. In 
responding to a draft of this report, the agencies commented that OMB 
does not believe that the agencies will be able to produce credible 
long-term funding estimates until two key data systems to help identify 
wildland fire threats and allocate fire management resources are more 
fully operational. OMB officials stated that they will allow the 
agencies to publish such estimates, but only when the agencies have 
sufficiently reliable data on which to base them.

The agencies have made progress on the three primary tasks we 
identified as important to developing a wildland fire management 
strategy, although challenges remain.

* LANDFIRE, a geospatial data and modeling system, will assist the 
agencies in identifying the extent, severity, and location of wildland 
fire threats to the nation's communities and ecosystems. LANDFIRE data 
are nearly complete for most of the western United States, with data 
for the remainder of the country scheduled to be completed in 2009. The 
agencies will need to ensure that LANDFIRE data are kept current in 
order to reflect landscape-altering events such as large fires and 
hurricanes.

* About 95 percent of the agencies' individual land management units 
have completed fire management plans in accordance with agency 
requirements promulgated in 2001. However, the agencies do not require 
regular plan updates to ensure that new data (from LANDFIRE, for 
example) are incorporated into the plans.

* The Fire Program Analysis (FPA) system is a computer-based model 
designed to assist the agencies in cost-effectively allocating the 
resources necessary to address wildland fires. The first of FPA's two 
phases is nearly complete, with the second phase expected to be 
completed in 2008. However, gaps in the data collected for FPA may 
reduce its usefulness in allocating resources.

Given the importance of a cohesive strategy for wildland fire 
management that includes long-term options and associated funding 
requirements, and the need to understand how and when the agencies will 
produce such a strategy, the Congress may want to consider requiring 
the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to develop a tactical 
plan outlining the key steps and time frames required to complete this 
cohesive strategy. Further, if the Congress believes it will need 
information on options and related funding before 2009--the scheduled 
completion date for LANDFIRE, which the agencies say they will need in 
order to produce credible funding estimates--it may wish to look to an 
independent source to provide interim information, perhaps by requiring 
the secretaries to contract with a third party to do so.

In responding to a draft of this report, the Forest Service and the 
Department of the Interior generally agreed with our findings, and with 
the need for a cohesive strategy and an associated tactical plan. 
However, given the agencies' additional comments about OMB's specific 
objections to their publishing long-term funding estimates critical to 
a cohesive strategy, and OMB's confirmation that it will allow the 
agencies to produce such estimates provided they have sufficiently 
reliable data on which to base the estimates, we revised the matters 
for congressional consideration contained in our draft report. See the 
Agency Comments and Our Evaluation section, as well as enclosures I and 
II, for the agencies' comments and our responses.

Background:

Wildland fire triggered by lightning is a normal, inevitable, and 
necessary ecological process that periodically removes excess 
undergrowth, small trees, and vegetation to renew ecosystem 
productivity. However, various human land use and management practices, 
including several decades of fire suppression activities, have reduced 
the normal frequency of wildland fires in many forest and rangeland 
ecosystems and have resulted in abnormally dense and continuous 
accumulations of vegetation that can fuel uncharacteristically large 
and intense wildland fires. Such large intense fires increasingly 
threaten catastrophic ecosystem damage and also increasingly threaten 
human lives, health, property, and infrastructure in the wildland-urban 
interface. Federal researchers estimate that vegetative conditions that 
can fuel such fires exist on 90 million to 200 million acres of federal 
lands in the contiguous United States, and that these conditions also 
exist on many nonfederal lands.

Our reviews over the last 7 years identified several weaknesses in the 
federal government's management response to wildland fire issues, 
including:

* the lack of a national strategy that addressed the likely high costs 
of needed fuel reduction efforts and the need to prioritize these 
efforts;

* shortcomings in federal planning and implementation at the local 
level;

* the lack of basic data, such as the amount and location of lands 
needing fuel reduction;

* ineffective coordination among federal agencies and collaboration 
between these agencies and nonfederal entities; and:

* insufficient accountability for federal expenditures and performance 
in wildland fire management.

Because of these weaknesses, and because of the likelihood that 
wildland fire problems will take decades to resolve, we concluded that 
the agencies needed a cohesive, long-term federal wildland fire 
management strategy focusing on identifying options for reducing fuels 
over the long term in order to decrease future wildland fire risks. We 
also said that the strategy should identify the needed funding 
associated with those different fuel reduction options over time, so 
that the agencies and the Congress could make cost-effective, strategic 
funding decisions.

The agencies have several wildland fire management activities under way 
that will be important to the development of a long-term cohesive 
strategy. In 2003, Agriculture and Interior approved funding for 
development of a geospatial data and modeling system, called LANDFIRE, 
designed to generate comprehensive maps of vegetation, fire, and fuel 
characteristics nationally and to enable comparisons of conditions 
between different field locations nationwide. When operational, 
LANDFIRE data and enhanced models of likely fire behavior thus will 
help identify the nature and magnitude of the wildland fire risks 
confronting numerous community and ecosystem resources, such as 
residential and commercial structures, species habitat, air and water 
quality, and soils. The agencies plan to use this information to better 
support their strategic decisions on preparedness, suppression, the 
location and design of fuel reduction projects, and other land 
management activities.

Another element of the agencies' wildland fire management strategy is 
the preparation of fire management plans, which are local plans 
prepared by individual agency management units (such as wildlife 
refuges or national forests) to define each unit's program to prepare 
for and manage fires. Fire management plans are important for 
identifying the fuel reduction, preparedness, suppression, and 
rehabilitation actions needed at the local level to effectively address 
wildland fire threats.

Finally, the agencies are implementing FPA, an interagency system 
intended to provide a single mechanism for planning and budgeting 
agency activities to prepare for, and respond to, wildland 
fire.[Footnote 2] FPA, which will use LANDFIRE data when available, is 
designed to identify the most cost-effective allocations of annual 
preparedness funding for implementing agency field units' local fire 
management plans, taking into account fire risk, resources to be 
protected, available firefighting assets, and other information.

Neither a Tactical Plan Nor a Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy That 
Includes Long-Term Options and Needed Funding Have Been Completed:

Officials at Agriculture and Interior told us the agencies have not 
developed the tactical plan we called for, outlining the critical steps 
the agencies will take, together with related time frames, to complete 
a cohesive strategy for wildland fire management--despite their 
commitment to do so in their response to our January 2005 report. And 
while the agencies completed a February 2006 interagency document 
entitled "Protecting People and Natural Resources: A Cohesive Fuels 
Treatment Strategy," this document does not identify long-term options 
and related funding needed for reducing fuels and responding to 
wildland fires when they occur.

Agency officials initially told us that they would be unable to ever 
produce such a strategy because OMB will not allow them to publish long-
term cost estimates--making a tactical plan unnecessary. In responding 
to a draft of this report, the agencies commented that OMB does not 
believe the agencies can produce credible long-term funding estimates 
until LANDFIRE and FPA are more fully operational. OMB officials stated 
that they will allow the agencies to publish long-term cost estimates, 
but only when they have sufficiently reliable data to develop credible 
estimates, and that LANDFIRE and FPA will be critical to doing so. 
Given OMB's concerns, it appears unlikely that a cohesive strategy that 
includes long-term options and needed funding will be developed before 
2009, the scheduled completion date for LANDFIRE.

Agency officials told us that, although their recently published 
cohesive strategy does not contain long-term options and needed 
funding, the agencies are taking steps to increase the effectiveness of 
their wildland fire management. The Wildland Fire Leadership Council is 
developing a comprehensive framework to monitor hazardous fuels 
reduction projects,[Footnote 3] and is conducting a review of the 10- 
Year Comprehensive Strategy Implementation Plan.[Footnote 4] The 
comprehensive monitoring framework will, among other activities, 
evaluate the effect of fuels treatments intended to reduce the risk of 
wildland fire and the extent of collaboration among federal, state, and 
local entities. Similarly, the review of the implementation plan, which 
an Interior official told us will be completed by midsummer 2006, will 
incorporate performance measures to evaluate whether fuels treatment 
activities are meeting their intended objectives. However, both of 
these efforts focus on the effects of fuels treatment activities, 
rather than providing options and needed funding for potential future 
wildland fire management activities.

Progress Has Been Made on LANDFIRE, Fire Management Plans, and FPA, but 
Challenges Remain:

The agencies have made progress in implementing three ongoing efforts 
that are critical to developing and implementing a cohesive wildland 
fire management strategy: LANDFIRE, fire management plans, and FPA. 
However, given the evolving nature of these efforts--particularly 
LANDFIRE and FPA--it will be important for the agencies to remain 
vigilant in ensuring that these efforts incorporate up-to-date and 
comprehensive data, in order to deliver on their promise.

LANDFIRE:

According to agency officials, LANDFIRE data have been collected for 
most of the western United States and are currently being validated, a 
process that should be completed by the end of fiscal year 2006. Data 
validation includes an internal data quality assurance and quality 
control process, according to these officials, as well as extensive 
work with local agency fire managers to ensure that the information 
produced by LANDFIRE accurately represents on-the-ground conditions. 
Data for the remaining contiguous states are scheduled to be completed 
by the end of fiscal year 2008, and for Alaska and Hawaii by the end of 
fiscal year 2009. In May 2006, LANDFIRE's Executive Oversight 
Committee, an interagency group of managers responsible for overseeing 
the project, will be conducting a review to evaluate the project's 
objectives, schedule, budget, data development, and data use.

As of March 2006, according to agency officials, almost $18 million of 
LANDFIRE's total expected cost of about $39 million has been spent. 
However, these officials also told us that, as of the same date, 
LANDFIRE was about 6 months behind the original production schedule, 
and agencies still face challenges regarding completion and 
implementation. The primary challenge facing LANDFIRE, according to 
agency officials, is keeping the data current in the face of landscape- 
altering events such as hurricanes and fires. Without up-to-date data, 
agency managers will have difficulty using LANDFIRE to identify 
existing vegetation and other landscape characteristics--information 
that is essential to developing an appropriate wildland fire management 
strategy. And while it is possible to acquire new data for particular 
areas that have undergone change, according to agency officials, 
integrating new data into the existing LANDFIRE data set can be 
problematic.

Fire Management Plans:

Nearly all of the agencies' land management units have completed fire 
management plans as called for in 2001 federal wildland fire management 
policy, according to agency officials and documents. Many, though not 
all, of these plans have been prepared within a common interagency 
template, which the agencies adopted to ensure greater consistency in 
their contents. Table 1 below shows the status of each agency's fire 
management plans.

Table 1: Completion Status of Agency Fire Management Plans Compliant 
with 2001 Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy:

Agency: Forest Service;
Number of plans needed: 115;
Number of plans completed: 115;
Percentage of needed plans completed: 100;
Percentage of plans using template: 100.

Agency: Bureau of Indian Affairs;
Number of plans needed: 353;
Number of plans completed: 350;
Percentage of needed plans completed: 99;
Percentage of plans using template: [a].

Agency: Bureau of Land Management;
Number of plans needed: 72; 
Number of plans completed: 72; 
Percentage of needed plans completed: 100; 
Percentage of plans using template: 100. 

Agency: Fish and Wildlife Service;
Number of plans needed: 641; 
Number of plans completed: 617; 
Percentage of needed plans completed: 96; 
Percentage of plans using template: [a]. 

Agency: National Park Service;
Number of plans needed: 279; 
Number of plans completed: 238; 
Percentage of needed plans completed: 85; 
Percentage of plans using template: 100.

Total:    
Number of plans needed: 1,460;
Number of plans completed: 1,392;
Percentage of needed plans completed: 95;
Percentage of plans using template: [a]. 

Source: GAO analysis of agency data.

[A] BIA and FWS officials told us that a portion of their agencies' 
plans use the template, although they did not estimate the percentage 
of completed plans doing so.

[End of table]

If these plans are to be the principal managing instruments for 
identifying, budgeting for, and implementing the various actions needed 
at the local level to effectively address wildland fire threats, the 
agencies will need to ensure that the plans are kept current. This will 
involve updating the plans to incorporate available LANDFIRE data as 
well as available research on addressing wildland fire threats (such as 
research on the extent to which conducting fuel reduction treatments in 
certain geometric patterns improves the treatments' effectiveness in 
reducing the spread rate and intensity of wildland fires). However, 
agency guidance does not require regular plan updates, instead leaving 
it up to land management units to determine the frequency of needed 
updates. January 2006 guidance covering the Forest Service, BLM, FWS, 
and NPS calls for these agencies to review plans annually and update 
them as needed; similarly, a BIA official told us that BIA guidance 
calls for plans to be updated when "significant changes" occur, such as 
large fires or changes in a particular unit's land use plan. Further, 
the agencies may not always find it easy to update these plans; a 
Forest Service official told us that, if the introduction of new data 
into a fire management plan results in the development of new fire 
management objectives, the agency might need to conduct a new National 
Environmental Policy Act analysis for that plan,[Footnote 5] requiring 
additional time and resources. If fire management plans are not updated 
to reflect the most current information on the extent and distribution 
of fire risks and the most promising methods for dealing with them, the 
plans will be of limited use in the agencies' attempts to manage 
wildland fire problems.

FPA:

FPA is being implemented in two phases, the first of which is nearly 
complete. Phase I is intended to provide information for use in two 
primary areas: (1) allocating resources for the initial responses to 
fires and (2) developing estimates for the agencies' fiscal year 2008 
budgets. Agency officials told us that, of the 138 interagency "fire 
planning units" established to submit data for FPA, 134 have submitted 
Phase I data. The agencies will validate the data during the spring and 
summer of 2006, and expect to use the data in formulating their fiscal 
year 2008 budgets. Phase II focuses on additional activities, including 
fuel reduction, postfire rehabilitation, and others; data for this 
phase are expected to be submitted by June 2008, followed by agency 
analysis and validation of the data.

Agency officials told us that, as part of FPA's implementation, about 
600 staff within the agencies, including staff in each of the 138 fire 
planning units, have received training on FPA. Agency officials also 
are conducting a "midcourse review" of FPA to assess progress to date 
and determine what changes may be necessary as the agencies continue to 
implement FPA. Officials told us that they expect a final report on the 
results of the review in the spring or summer of 2006. According to 
agency officials, as of March 2006, about $21 million of the expected 
overall cost of $48 million had been spent on FPA. This is about $6 
million more than the 2004 estimate of $42 million; a Forest Service 
official told us that the increase is primarily due to an additional 
year of Phase II development, as well as additional operations and 
maintenance costs expected in 2009 and 2010.

While progress continues to be made, gaps exist in the data collected 
for FPA. In order to cost-effectively allocate federal resources, FPA 
was designed to incorporate data on both federal and nonfederal 
firefighting assets (such as personnel and equipment) because both 
federal and nonfederal assets might be used to fight an individual 
fire, regardless of whether the fire occurs on federal or nonfederal 
land. Nevertheless, nonfederal assets have not been consistently 
included in FPA because, according to officials and FPA documents, many 
states and other nonfederal entities have been reluctant or unwilling 
to provide data for FPA. Some states are concerned about the time and 
resources required to compile and submit data for FPA, particularly 
given that many states do not envision using FPA to develop their 
wildland fire budgets and thus cannot justify the additional workload 
required to participate. In other cases, nonfederal officials may be 
worried that federal assets will be reduced in areas where nonfederal 
assets already exist because the nonfederal assets may be deemed 
sufficient to provide the initial response to a fire--which could 
potentially increase the nonfederal entities' workload in the event of 
a fire.

Without comprehensive data on all federal and nonfederal assets 
available to fight wildland fires, it is unclear how effectively 
federal resources will be allocated using FPA because federal resources 
may be directed to areas where sufficient nonfederal assets already 
exist--or, conversely, federal resources may be directed away from 
areas despite those areas' lack of available nonfederal assets. 
However, federal agency officials stated that the absence of nonfederal 
data is unlikely to significantly hamper the agencies' ability to use 
FPA to make resource allocation and budget decisions, although they 
have not yet fully assessed the effect of not having complete 
nonfederal data. These officials also reported that they are developing 
a strategy for obtaining nonfederal data.

Conclusions:

The federal government is expending substantial effort and billions of 
dollars in attempting to address our nation's wildland fire problems. 
If the agencies and the Congress are to make informed decisions about 
an effective and affordable long-term approach to the issue, they 
should have a cohesive strategy that identifies long-term options and 
needed funding for addressing these wildland fire problems. Because it 
likely will be at least 2009 before the agencies develop such a 
strategy that would meet standards required by OMB, we continue to 
believe it is essential that, in the interim, the agencies create a 
tactical plan for developing this strategy, so that the Congress 
understands the steps and time frames involved with its completion. 
However, despite our previous recommendation that the agencies develop 
this tactical plan, and the agencies' commitment to do so, they have 
not produced such a plan.

Matters for Congressional Consideration:

Given the importance of a cohesive strategy for wildland fire 
management that identifies long-term options and needed funding, as 
well as the need to understand how and when the agencies will develop 
such a strategy, the Congress may wish to consider requiring that the 
Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior develop a tactical plan 
that lays out the specific steps and time frames needed to complete a 
cohesive strategy.

In the interim, while the agencies are developing a tactical plan and 
cohesive strategy, the Congress will continue to lack information 
regarding long-term options and needed funding for responding to 
wildland fire problems. If the Congress believes such information is 
necessary to make informed decisions in the near term, it may wish to 
consider seeking an independent source to provide interim information 
until the agencies are able to complete the cohesive strategy we 
previously recommended. This could be accomplished by, among other 
approaches, requiring the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior 
to contract with a third party. Regardless of the approach chosen, 
given both the complexity and the urgency of the wildland fire issue, 
the Congress may wish to specify certain time frames and deliverables-
-including long-term options and needed funding based upon the best 
available information--in order to ensure that it is provided with 
timely and comprehensive information.

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation:

We provided a draft of this report to the Secretaries of Agriculture 
and the Interior for review and comment. The agencies generally agreed 
with our findings, and with the need for a cohesive strategy and an 
associated tactical plan. They provided additional comments that we 
have incorporated into the report, as appropriate. Their comments, 
along with our responses, are reprinted in enclosures I and II, 
respectively.

Our draft report contained a matter for congressional consideration 
suggesting that the Congress require the agencies to develop a cohesive 
strategy including long-term options and needed funding, given the 
agencies' initial statements that OMB would not permit them to produce 
long-term cost estimates. In responding to a draft of our report, the 
agencies provided additional comments about OMB's specific objections 
to their publishing long-term funding estimates critical to a cohesive 
strategy. OMB confirmed that it will allow the agencies to produce such 
estimates provided they have sufficiently reliable data on which to 
base them. Accordingly, we revised the matters for congressional 
consideration.

We are sending copies of this report to the Secretaries of Agriculture 
and the Interior and the Chief of the Forest Service. We will also make 
copies available to others upon request. In addition, this report will 
be available at no charge on GAO's Web site at [Hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov].

If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please 
contact me at (202) 512-3841 or at nazzaror@gao.gov. Contact points for 
our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found 
on the last page of this report. Major contributors to this report were 
David P. Bixler, Assistant Director; Steve Gaty; Richard Johnson; 
Chester Joy; and Matthew Reinhart. 

Signed By:

Robin M. Nazzaro:

Director: 
Natural Resources and Environment:

Enclosures:

Enclosure I:

Comments from the Forest Service: 

USDA: 
United States Department of Agriculture: 
Forest Service:
Washington Office:
1400 Independence Avenue, SW: 
Washington, DC 20250: 

File Code: 1420/1310/1930:

Date: APR 21 2006:

Ms. Robin Nazzaro:
Director: 
Natural Resources and Environment: 
U.S. Government Accountability Office:
441 G Street, N.W.: 
Washington, DC 20548:

Dear Ms. Nazzaro:

Thank you for the opportunity to review and comment on the draft 
Government Accountability Office (GAO) correspondence, GAO-06-671 R, 
"Wildland Fire Management: Update on Federal Agency Efforts to Develop 
a Cohesive Strategy to Address Wildland Fire Threats." The Forest 
Service generally agrees with the findings in the correspondence and 
believes that GAO accurately portrayed the progress the agency has made 
in implementing LANDFIRE and FPA.

There is a point that the Forest Service would like to see clarified:

* Under the "Results in Brief" and the "Neither a Tactical Plan nor a 
Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy That Includes Long-Term Options and 
Needed Funding Have been Completed" sections, GAO states department 
officials said they cannot produce such a strategy because OMB will not 
allow them to publish long-term cost estimates. While this is factually 
correct, it needs to be put in the proper context. OMB does not believe 
that the agency can produce credible long-term funding estimates until 
LANDFIRE and FPA are more fully operational and are concerned about the 
Administration providing numbers to Congress that are unreliable.

The correspondence contains a Matter for Congressional Consideration 
that tells Congress they may wish to consider requiring the Secretaries 
of Agriculture and Interior to produce a cohesive strategy that 
includes long-term options and the needed funding associated with each 
option and, as an interim step, to produce a tactical plan laying out 
the steps and timeframes required to produce a cohesive strategy. As 
the Forest stated in its response to the original report "Wildland Fire 
Management: Important Progress Has Been Made, but Challenges Remain to 
Completing a Cohesive Strategy", in January 2005 the agency generally 
agrees with the premise of the idea but believes accurate and credible 
numbers in any cohesive strategy will require LANDFIRE and FPA becoming 
more fully operational. However, at this time, it may be possible to 
produce a tactical plan that lays out steps and timeframes for 
completing LANDFIRE and FPA, as well as other current efforts.

Again, we thank GAO for the opportunity to comment on this 
correspondence. If you have any questions, please contact Sandy 
Cantler, Fire and Aviation Management, at (202) 205-1438 or Sandy 
Coleman, Assistant Director, Agency Audit Liaison Staff, at (703) 605- 
4940.

Signed By:

Dale N. Bosworth: 
Chief:

cc: Sandra Cantler: 
Jesse L King: 
Sandy T Coleman: 
Clarice Wesley: 

The following are GAO's comments on the Forest Service's letter dated 
April 21, 2006.

GAO Comments:

1. We have modified our draft to include the agency's statement that 
OMB does not believe that the departments can produce credible long-
term funding estimates until LANDFIRE and FPA are more fully 
operational.  

2. We have modified our matters for congressional consideration based 
on statements from the agencies and OMB regarding the the agencies' 
ability to produce a cohesive strategy. 

[End of section]

Enclosure II:

Comments from the Department of the Interior:  

United States Department of the Interior:
Office Of The Secretary: 
Washington, D.C. 20240:

APR 21 2006:

Ms. Robin Nazzaro:
Director: 
Natural Resources and Environment: 
U.S. Government Accountability Office:
441 G Street, N.W.: 
Washington, DC 20548:

Dear Ms. Nazzaro:

Thank you for the opportunity to review and comment on the draft 
Government Accountability Office (GAO) correspondence, GAO-06-671R, 
"Wildland Fire Management: Update on Federal Agency Efforts to Develop 
a Cohesive Strategy to Address Wildland Fire Threats." The Department 
of the Interior generally agrees with the findings in the 
correspondence and believes that GAO accurately portrayed the progress 
the Department has made on the three primary activities GAO considers 
necessary to preparation of a long-term cohesive strategy: LANDFIRE, 
fire management plans, and the Fire Program Analysis (FPA) tool.

The Department is concerned, however, that by restating conclusions 
from previous studies in the Background section without acknowledging 
that progress has been made in addressing the concerns they portray, 
the reader may draw an incorrect inference regarding progress. For 
example, contrary to the page five bullet point "ineffective 
coordination among federal agencies and collaboration between these 
agencies and nonfederal entities," DOI bureaus actively engage in 
collaborative project identification and prioritization efforts with 
state, tribal, and local partners throughout the country including 
development of Community Wildfire Protection Plans.

The Department would like to clarify a point regarding preparation of 
the kind of cohesive strategy called for by GAO:

* Under the "Results in Brief' and the "Neither a Tactical Plan nor a 
Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy That Includes Long-Term Options and 
Needed Funding Have been Completed" sections, GAO states department 
officials said they cannot produce such a strategy because OMB will not 
allow them to publish long-term cost estimates. While this is factually 
correct, it needs to be put in the proper context. OMB does not believe 
that the agencies can produce credible long-term funding estimates 
until LANDFIRE and FPA are more fully operational and are concerned 
about the Administration providing numbers to Congress that may be 
unreliable. We strongly urge GAO to correct its statement.

The correspondence contains a Matter for Congressional Consideration 
that tells Congress they may wish to consider requiring the Secretaries 
of Agriculture and Interior to produce a cohesive strategy that 
includes long-term options and the needed funding associated with each 
option and, as an interim step, to produce a tactical plan laying out 
the steps and timeframes required to produce a cohesive strategy. As 
the Department noted in its December 10, 2004 response to the original 
report "Wildland Fire Management: Important Progress Has Been Made, but 
Challenges Remain to Completing a Cohesive Strategy," the agency 
generally agrees with the premise of the idea but believes accurate and 
credible numbers in any cohesive strategy will require LANDFIRE and FPA 
becoming more fully operational. However, at this time, it may be 
possible to produce a tactical plan that lays out steps and timeframes 
for completing LANDFIRE and FPA, as well as other current efforts.

Again, we thank GAO for the opportunity to comment on this 
correspondence.

Sincerely,

Signed By:

R. Thomas Weimer: 
Assistant Secretary: 
Policy, Management and Budget:   

The following are GAO's comments on the Department of the Interior's 
letter dated April 21, 2006.

GAO Comments:

1. In identifying the weaknesses that we found in our previous work, we 
do not intend to imply that the agencies have made no progress in 
addressing these issues. Instead, we are simply providing context for 
our ongoing efforts to assess the agencies' wildland fire management 
activities.

2. We have modified our draft to include the department's statement 
that OMB does not believe that the agencies can produce credible long-
term funding estimates until LANDFIRE and FPA are more fully 
operational.

3. We have modified our matters for congressional consideration based 
on statements from the agencies and OMB regarding the agencies' ability 
to produce a cohesive strategy. 

(360686):

[End of section]

FOOTNOTES

[1] GAO, Wildland Fire Management: Important Progress Has Been Made, 
but Challenges Remain to Completing a Cohesive Strategy, GAO-05-147 
(Washington, D.C.: Jan. 14, 2005).

[2] FPA is being implemented in response to a congressional committee 
direction to improve budget allocation tools. See GAO, Wildland Fire 
Management: Improved Planning Will Help Agencies Better Identify Fire- 
Fighting Preparedness Needs, GAO-02-158 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 29, 
2002).

[3] The Wildland Fire Leadership Council was established in April 2002 
to support the implementation and coordination of federal wildland fire 
management activities. The council includes membership from Agriculture 
and Interior as well as the agencies with wildland fire management 
responsibilities.

[4] The 10-Year Comprehensive Strategy, published in 2001 by the 
Departments of Agriculture and the Interior and the Western Governors 
Association, and the associated implementation plan detail goals, 
timelines, and responsibilities for various actions related to wildland 
fire management.

[5] For major federal actions that significantly affect the quality of 
the human environment, the National Environmental Policy Act requires 
all federal agencies to analyze the environmental impact of the 
proposed action. 42 U.S.C.  4332(2)(C). 

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