Forest Service:

Lack of Financial and Performance Accountability Has Resulted in Inefficiency and Waste

T-RCED/AIMD-98-135: Published: Mar 26, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 26, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the management of the Forest Service, focusing on: (1) GAO's prior and ongoing work on the agency's financial and operational management; and (2) actions that need to be taken to hold the Forest Service accountable for its expenditures and performance.

GAO noted that: (1) forgone revenue, inefficiency, and waste throughout the Forest Service's operations and organization have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars; (2) the agency's financial statements are unreliable, and expenditures of significant amounts cannot be accounted for; (3) furthermore, the Forest Service's weak contracting practices have exposed appropriated dollars to an increased risk of fraud, waste, and abuse; (4) these and other findings have led GAO, the Department of Agriculture's Inspector General, and Forest Service task forces to make numerous recommendations to improve performance; (5) the agency has not acted on some, has studied and restudied others without implementing them, and has left the implementation of others to the discretion of its independent and autonomous regional offices and forests with mixed results; (6) to improve its operational efficiency and effectiveness, the Forest Service must be accountable for its expenditures and performance; (7) specifically, the Forest Service has identified the actions required to correct known accounting and financial reporting deficiencies and has established a schedule to attain financial accountability within the next few years; (8) in addition, the agency has taken an important first step toward becoming accountable for its performance by making clear that its overriding mission and funding priority, consistent with its existing legislative framework, has shifted from producing goods and services to maintaining and restoring the health of the lands entrusted to its care; (9) however, it has not identified the actions required to correct decade-old problems with its data, measurement, and reporting; addressed new challenges resulting from its changed priorities; or established a schedule to achieve accountability for its performance by a certain date; and (10) strong leadership within the agency and sustained oversight by Congress will be needed to ensure that the actions required to hold the agency accountable for its performance are identified and that the Forest Service adheres to schedules to achieve both performance and financial accountability.

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