Forest Service:

Status of Efforts to Improve Accountability

T-RCED/AIMD-00-93: Published: Feb 16, 2000. Publicly Released: Feb 16, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the status of efforts by the Forest Service to achieve accountability for the tax dollars appropriated to carry out its mission, focusing on: (1) actions the agency has taken to improve its financial and performance accountability; (2) the remaining hurdles to those improvements; and (3) strategies the agency is developing to address these hurdles.

GAO noted that: (1) the Forest Service is taking actions to address known problems with its financial management and reporting, as well as with its performance-related data, measurement, and reporting; (2) to improve its performance accountability, the agency is revising the strategic plan that it prepared under the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 to better focus on outcomes to be achieved over time; (3) in addition to goals and objectives, the revised strategic plan sets out performance measures and milestones as indicators of progress; (4) as GAO has previously recommended, the agency has proposed significant changes in its budget structure for fiscal year (FY) 2001; (5) these changes are intended to better link its largest discretionary appropriation--for the National Forest System--with the goals and objectives in its strategic plan and with the integrated way that work activities are conducted in the field; (6) despite these efforts, major hurdles to achieving financial and performance accountability remain; (7) in terms of performance, the Forest Service's proposed FY 2001 budget justification continues to rely on annual performance measures that do not always encourage progress toward the agency's strategic objectives; (8) until the agency better links annual performance measures and budget allocation criteria to its strategic objectives and corrects deficiencies in its financial management and reporting systems, the agency will not be able to provide Congress or the public with a clear understanding of how many taxpayer dollars are being spent on each of the agency's strategic goals and objectives and what is being accomplished with the money; (9) to address the remaining hurdles to attaining financial accountability, the Forest Service has devised a strategy with goals, objectives, timeframes, and measures and is redesigning the organizational structure of its financial management functions; (10) the agency is also beginning to develop a strategy for improving the links between its strategic objectives and its annual performance measures and budget allocation criteria; and (11) the Forest Service also plans to develop as yet unspecified changes to the organizational structure of the National Forest System to better accomplish its strategic goals and objectives.

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