Forest Service Decision-Making:

Greater Clarity Needed on Mission Priorities

T-RCED-97-81: Published: Feb 25, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 25, 1997.

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GAO discussed the preliminary results of its work on the decisionmaking process used by the Forest Service in carrying out its mission, focusing on the underlying causes of inefficiencies and ineffectiveness in the Forest Service's decisionmaking process.

GAO noted that: (1) its ongoing work has identified three underlying causes of inefficiency and ineffectiveness in the Forest Service's decisionmaking process; (2) first, the agency has not given adequate attention to improving its decisionmaking process, including improving its accountability for expenditures and performance; (3) as a result, long-standing deficiencies within its decisionmaking process that have contributed to increased costs and time and/or the inability to achieve planned objectives have not been corrected; (4) second, issues that transcend the agency's administrative boundaries and jurisdiction have not been adequately addressed; (5) in particular, the Forest Service and other federal agencies have had difficulty reconciling the administrative boundaries of national forests, parks, and other federal land management units with the boundaries of natural systems, such as watersheds and vegetative and animal communities, both in planning and in assessing the cumulative impact of federal and nonfederal activities on the environment; (6) third, the requirements of numerous planning and environmental laws, enacted during the 1960s and 1970s, have not been harmonized; (7) as a result, differences among the requirements of different laws and their differing judicial interpretations require some issues to be analyzed or reanalyzed at different stages in the different decisionmaking processes of the Forest Service and other federal agencies without any clear sequence leading to their timely resolution; (8) additional differences among the statutory requirements for protecting resources, such as endangered and threatened species, water, air, diverse plant and animal communities, and wilderness, have also sometimes been difficult to reconcile; (9) however, on the basis of its work to date, GAO believes that statutory changes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Forest Service's decisionmaking process cannot be identified until agreement is first reached on which uses the agency is to emphasize under its broad multiple-use and sustained-yield mandate and how it is to resolve conflicts or make choices among competing uses on its lands; and (10) disagreement over which uses should receive priority, both inside and outside the agency, has also inhibited the Forest Service in establishing the goals and performance measures needed to ensure its accountability.

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