Endangered Species Program: Information on How Funds Are Allocated and What Activities Are Emphasized

GAO-02-581 Published: Jun 25, 2002. Publicly Released: Jul 16, 2002.
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The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was enacted to conserve plant and animal species facing extinction as well as their habitats. The act requires that at-risk species that may be candidates for listing and conservation efforts be identified and listed as threatened or endangered, critical habitat that requires special management be identified, proposed projects that could harm the listed species be mitigated, and plans to improve the status of listed species until they no longer need protection be developed and implemented. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) established an endangered species program within its ecological services program to implement the requirements of the act. The Service budgets separately allocates its endangered species program funds by distinct subcategories corresponding to the program areas of recovery, consultation, candidate conservation, listing, and landowner incentives. The Service maintains these allocations by program area as it distributes funds from headquarters to its regional offices and again as the regional offices distribute funds to their field offices. GAO's survey results showed that in fiscal year 2001, of the total time field staff spent on specific endangered species program activities, consultation accounted for 42 percent and recovery accounted for 28 percent. The remaining 30 percent was spent on candidate conservation, landowner incentives, and listing. These percentages do not reflect the time field staff spent on general endangered species program activities.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Interior To reduce the influence of litigation on the listing program area, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Service to expedite its efforts to develop guidance on designating critical habitat for listed species.
Closed – Implemented
Since 2012, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), in collaboration with the National Marine Fisheries Service, has issued policy and guidance related to designating critical habitat for listed species and to clarify the role of critical habitat. For instance, in 2012, the Service published regulations that clarified practices for providing the public with the geographic coordinates from which critical habitat designation maps are generated. In 2016, the Services published three additional rules intended to clarify, interpret, and implement portions of the Endangered Species Act concerning, among other things, the procedures and criteria used for designating and revising critical habitat, such as revising the definition of "destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat."
Department of the Interior To better understand the relative emphasis given to program areas in the endangered species program and determine whether appropriated funds are being spent in accordance with budgetary direction, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Service to review the processes being used across the agency to record time charges. This review would help identify any processes that are vulnerable to recording incorrect data; the extent to which offices are charging time to another program area once funds in the relevant program area are depleted; and the reasons for shifting time charges.
Closed – Implemented
In 2005, the Fish and Wildlife Service implemented activity-based costing, which is intended--among other things--to ensure that employees record work as actually performed, as opposed to as how the work was planned or budgeted.

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