South Florida Ecosystem Restoration:

An Overall Strategic Plan and a Decision-Making Process Are Needed to Keep the Effort on Track

T-RCED-99-157: Published: Apr 22, 1999. Publicly Released: Apr 22, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Initiative, focusing on: (1) how much and for what purposes federal funding has been provided for the restoration of the South Florida ecosystem; and (2) how well the restoration effort is being coordinated and managed.

GAO noted that: (1) it estimated that over $1.2 billion in federal funds was provided for this effort from fiscal year (FY) 1993 through FY 1999; (2) over 75 percent of the federal expenditures from FY 1993 through FY 1998 have been made by agencies within the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; (3) the federal funding provided to date represents only a down payment; (4) while no official cost projection for the total restoration effort has been made, a major component, the implementation of the Central and Southern Florida Project Comprehensive Review Study, is estimated to cost an additional $7.8 billion, which will be shared equally by the federal and state governments; (5) the Restudy is designed to substantially increase the amount of water that is delivered to natural areas while enhancing agricultural and urban water supplies; (6) according to the executive director of the South Florida Ecosystem Task Force, at least $2 billion beyond the $7.8 billion will be needed to complete the restoration effort; (7) this money will be used to acquire additional lands, construct other infrastructure projects, and eradicate exotic plant species; (8) consequently, the restoration effort, which is expected to take at least 20 years to complete, could cost at least $11 billion; (9) the Task Force, a group that brings together representatives of federal, state, and local agencies and affected tribes, is responsible for coordinating the participating entities' implementation of the initiative; (10) however, a strategic plan that clearly lays out how the initiative will be accomplished and includes quantifiable goals and performance measures has not yet been developed; (11) in addition, the Task Force is a coordinating body, not a decisionmaking body, and thus is limited in its ability to manage and make decisions for the overall restoration effort; (12) as GAO's review indicates, even with the coordination efforts of the Task Force, two ongoing infrastructure projects that are integral to the restoration effort are taking longer and costing more than planned, in part because the federal and state agencies involved are unable to agree on components of these projects; and (13) given the scope and complexity of the initiative and the difficulties already being encountered, additional delays and cost overruns are likely in the future, and the accomplishment of the initiative's overall goals is at risk.

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