Forest Service Management:

Little Has Changed as a Result of the Fiscal Year 1995 Budget Reforms

RCED-99-2: Published: Dec 2, 1998. Publicly Released: Dec 15, 1998.

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James E. Wells, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Forest Service's implementation of fiscal year (FY) 1995 budget reforms, focusing on the progress that the agency has made toward becoming more accountable for its results.

GAO noted that: (1) the Forest Service's management of the National Forest System has not appreciably changed as a result of the increased flexibility offered by the FY 1995 budget reforms; (2) consolidating the line items was intended to provide field managers with greater discretion in deciding where to spend funds to better achieve the agency's goals and objectives; (3) however: (a) some field offices have continued to distribute and track funds as if the consolidation had not occurred; and (b) the budget is still structured primarily by individual resource-specific programs; (4) the reforms expanded the Forest Service's authority to move funds between line items without the appropriations committees' approval; (5) the agency has seldom requested such approval either before or after the reforms; (6) the agency submitted one or two requests a year for the Appropriations committees' approval to move funds among line items for the National Forest System in fiscal years 1994 through 1997; (7) the reforms have not had a noticeable impact on the number of times that the Forest Service has made such requests of the committees; (8) the reforms restructured the agency's budget so that all the funding for a project is consolidated in the program that will benefit most from the project; (9) however, a benefitting program may not have the funds needed to implement a project; (10) it may require other programs that are providing support services to absorb the costs of those services; (11) this practice circumvents the requirements established by the appropriations committees and the agency to move funds between line items and understates a project's costs; (12) the Forest Service has not provided Congress with the improved accountability that the appropriations committees requested when they gave the agency increased flexibility over its budget; (13) GAO found that: (a) the agencywide criteria developed by the Forest Service to allocate appropriated funds to its regions and forests are often not linked to its strategic goals and objectives; (b) the agency's performance measures do not adequately reflect its accomplishments or progress toward achieving the goals and objectives; and (c) the management cost and performance reporting system that the agency has been developing for over 10 years uses the inadequate performance measures as input; and (14) the Forest Service, Congress, and others do not have an adequate measure of the agency's funding needs or its progress toward achieving its goals and objectives.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On the basis of extensive consultation and deliberation with GAO and others, Congress revised the Forest Service's budget structure for fiscal year 2001. The new structure consolidates activities to better link it to the way work is accomplished in the field. In addition, the Forest Service has developed better measures of its progress in addressing issues or problems that cut across the boundaries of resource-specific programs.

    Recommendation: To improve the Forest Service's accountability for results, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Forest Service to: (1) revise the agency's budget structure, budget allocation criteria, and performance measures to better link them to the Forest Service's strategic goals and objectives; and (2) incorporate the new performance measures into the management cost and performance reporting system that the agency is developing.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On September 9, 2002, the Forest Service issued a Performance Accountability Implementation Plan, that among other things, established firm milestones for the agency to achieve performance accountability.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the budget allocation criteria and performance measures are revised and the management cost and performance reporting system is implemented in a timely manner, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Forest Service to establish a firm schedule to achieve performance accountability.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture


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