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Highlights

Restoration of the South Florida ecosystem is a significant federal and state priority, requiring the development and use of extensive scientific information. GAO was asked to report on the funds spent on scientific activities for restoration, the gaps that exist in scientific information, and the extent to which scientific activities are being coordinated.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Interior In order to improve the coordination of scientific activities for the South Florida ecosystem restoration initiative, as the chair of the Task Force, the Secretary of the Interior should specify the plans and documents--including a science plan focused on key information gaps, a comprehensive monitoring plan, and progress reports for each plan--that the SCT needs to complete and the time frames for completing them.
Closed - Implemented
In December 2003, the Task Force established the Science Coordination Group (SCG) and directed it to develop a plan to coordinate science. The plan is being developed in two phases. The first phase, which includes a description of the approach developed to identify science needs and gaps to facilitate management decisions and to coordinate efforts to fill these gaps. SCG completed Phase I in August of 2004 and the Task Force approved it in December 2004. Phase II, scheduled to be completed in 2006, will include the full identification of science needs and gaps, additional essential coordination actions and processes for ensuring quality science. Following the completion of Phase II, the plan is to be updated biennially.
Department of the Interior In order to improve the coordination of scientific activities for the South Florida ecosystem restoration initiative, the chair of the Task Force, the Secretary of the Interior should establish a process that ensures the Task Force identifies key management issues that need to be addressed by science planning.
Closed - Implemented
In December 2003, the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force approved a new charter for the Science Coordination Group (SCG) after it "reevaluated its whole approach to coordinating science." The new charter puts in place several procedural improvements, all of which focus on the need to have management input into science planning. First, the SCG reports directly to the Task Force, whereas previously it reported to the Task Force's Working Group. Second, the chair of the SCG attends Task Force meetings and briefs the Task Force on ongoing matters. Third, the membership of the SCG includes senior scientists and managers from the participating agencies. Finally, the charter includes a specific expectation for the SCG to produce a science plan. The SCG is currently working on this plan.
Department of the Interior In order to improve the coordination of scientific activities for the South Florida ecosystem restoration initiative, the chair of the Task Force, the Secretary of the Interior should establish a process, such as review by an advisory group, to ensure that the SCT, Working Group, and Task Force prioritize issues that require synthesis and are critical to restoration decisions.
Closed - Implemented
The Science Coordination Group (SCG) has developed a risk-based approach for identifying the issues that are most critical to restoration success. This approach includes (1) establishing teams of scientific experts in various ecological and hydrological disciplines to review models for key needs and gaps, (2) reviews by experts to help prioritize scientific needs and gaps and to improve the prioritization process, (3)continued review and update of the science needs and gaps, and (4) development of synthesis products for broad and cross-disciplined scientific coordination. In addition, the SCG is required to conduct a biennial update of the Task Force's Science Plan. This update will include a review to (1) determine which science needs and gaps previously identified by the Task Force gaps have been filled (2) determine whether Task Force actions are implemented appropriately and in a timely manner, (3) identify any new science needs that have emerged as a result of the restoration process, and (4) identify and evaluate any new science gaps and the actions required to address them. The Task Force has also commissioned an independent commission to assist it in further refining the science gaps identified and the actions needed to address them.
Department of the Interior In order to improve the coordination of scientific activities for the South Florida ecosystem restoration initiative, the chair of the Task Force, the Secretary of the Interior should evaluate the SCT's current staffing needs and allocate sufficient staff, including full-time management staff, to the SCT so that it can carry out its responsibilities.
Closed - Implemented
In a March 25, 2004 letter to the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies, Assistant Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett reported that the Office of the Executive Director had reviewed the staffing situation for the newly formed Science Coordination Group (SCG) and recommended that immediate staffing be provided by dedicating staff from within its resources. The Office and the SCG anticipate that additional support may be needed periodically and can be obtained through contracts.

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