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.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|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.|
|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.|