Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service:

Information on the Time Spent on Major and Significant Rules

RCED-97-226R: Published: Aug 20, 1997. Publicly Released: Sep 2, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the time spent by the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service developing rules as provided by the Administrative Procedure Act, as amended, focusing on: (1) from October 1988 through 1997, the number of rules the Forest Service and BLM initiated or completed and how many were considered major or significant as defined by Executive Orders 12291 and 12866; (2) the amount of time BLM and the Forest Service spent on those rules identified as major or significant; and (3) what factors contributed to the amount of time spent on the major and significant rules.

GAO noted that: (1) between October 1988 and April 1997, BLM initiated or completed 168 rules; the Forest Service initiated or completed 93; (2) BLM had 7 rules and the Forest Service had 10 rules that met the definitions of major or significant; (3) all seven of BLM's rules were significant; (4) according to officials within BLM's Regulatory Affairs Group, the agency has not had any major rules since October 1988; (5) of the Forest Service's 10 rules, 1 was designated as major; the remaining 9 were designated as significant; (6) GAO found that BLM spent from more than 2 years to almost 6 years for the four significant rules that it completed and more than 9 years for one rule that it subsequently withdrew; (7) as of July 31, 1997, BLM had been working on one significant rule for almost 4 years and on another for almost 9 years; (8) the Forest Service spent from more than 2 years to 5 years for the three significant rules that it completed and 8 months to almost 9 years for the three rules that it subsequently withdrew; (9) as of July 31, 1997, the Forest Service had been working on three significant rules for more than 6 to almost 10 years; (10) on the basis of GAO's discussions with the principal authors as well as other agency officials, some of the reasons for the time spent on the rules include: (a) pending legislation; (b) congressional actions in fiscal years 1996 and 1997 that imposed a moratorium on both agencies moving forward with regulations related to the export of federal timber; (c) presidential moratoriums in January and April 1992 that lasted until August 28, 1992, and a January 1993 postponement of regulations until the sub-Cabinet-level official or agency head had been confirmed by the Senate; and (d) the lack of full-time agency staff with subject matter expertise to work on rules; according to both BLM and Forest Service officials, staff work on rules along with carrying out their other responsibilities; (11) BLM regulatory affairs officials said that low staff levels and competing priorities affected the time spent on rules; (12) for the entire Bush administration and the first 2 years of the Clinton administration, BLM had only two regulatory specialists, one of whom spent almost 2 years working on range reform while the other specialist handled all other activities, including congressionally directed rules that did not qualify as major or significant; and (13) Forest Service regulatory personnel said that the downsizing of the Forest Service staff had resulted in the loss of the agency's most experienced staff and that the agency had difficulty in replacing the lost expertise for rules in progress.

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