Fish and Wildlife Service:

Options to Improve the Use of Federal Aid Programs' Administrative Funds

T-RCED-99-285: Published: Sep 29, 1999. Publicly Released: Sep 29, 1999.

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James E. Wells, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) management and oversight of the administrative funds associated with the Wildlife Restoration Program and the Sport Fish Restoration Program, focusing on: (1) recapping the results of GAO's July 20, 1999, testimony on the management and oversight of the Federal Aid Program; (2) options to improve the program's use of administrative funds; and (3) providing additional information related to the use of administrative funds identified in GAO's July 1999 testimony.

GAO noted that: (1) in GAO's July 20, 1999, testimony, GAO identified numerous problems with the way administrative funds are used and managed; (2) GAO believes that these problems have led to a culture of permissive spending within the Office of Federal Aid; (3) the problems GAO identified included: (a) controls over expenditures, revenues, and grants were inadequate; (b) millions of dollars in program funds could not be tracked; (c) basic principles and procedures for managing travel funds were not followed; (d) basic internal control standards or Office of Management and Budget guidance for maintaining complete and accurate grants files was not followed; (e) regional offices used administrative funds inconsistently and for purposes that were not clearly justified; (f) charges for Service-wide overhead may not be accurate; (g) routine audits to determine whether administrative funds were being used for authorized purposes were not conducted; and (h) the process for resolving audit findings involving states' use of program funds was questionable; (4) there are at least three primary options to consider for controlling the use of administrative funds: (a) the Office of Federal Aid could be given additional time to correct the problems identified in GAO's testimony; (b) legislative limits could be placed on how FWS spends administrative funds; and (c) require FWS to use appropriated funds to administer the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration programs and devote all excise tax revenues to state and other qualified government recipients' grants; (5) GAO is hopeful but not confident that FWS will be committed to implementing the planned changes and that the changes will result in lasting improvement; (6) GAO's lack of confidence is due to the Office of Federal Aid's poor track record in dealing with the identified problems; and (7) the options presented are intended to provide additional controls and accountability over the funds used to administer the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration programs, and to assist the House Committee on Resources in its decisions about the future of the Office of Federal Aid's administration of the programs.

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