Federal Land Management: Additional Guidance on Community Involvement Could Enhance Effectiveness of Stewardship Contracting

GAO-04-652 Published: Jun 14, 2004. Publicly Released: Jun 14, 2004.
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Highlights

In their efforts to reduce hazardous fuels and the risk of wildfire on the nation's public lands, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) expect that stewardship contracting will play a major role. Stewardship contracting involves the use of contracting authorities--such as the exchange of goods for services--first authorized in 1998 and intended to help the agencies achieve land management goals that meet community needs. GAO was asked, among other things, to determine (1) the contracting and financial controls the agencies use to ensure accountability in managing stewardship contracting projects and (2) the steps the agencies have taken to involve communities in the projects.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Interior To enhance the ability of stewardship contracting projects to meet local needs and improve public trust in the agencies, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the agencies to issue additional guidance on community involvement. Such guidance should identify, and encourage the use of, best practices in seeking and incorporating community input, and establish minimum requirements for seeking community involvement on each stewardship contracting project.
Closed - Not Implemented
BLM has conducted several national training sessions on stewardship contracting, each including a module on effective collaboration. In addition, BLM supplemented its guidance on stewardship contracting in December 2005, including a brief discussion of community involvement and collaboration. However, BLM's guidance does not provide substantial information that could be used by stewardship project officers as they seek to determine appropriate levels and forms of community involvement, and therefore this recommendation remains open.
Department of Agriculture To enhance the ability of stewardship contracting projects to meet local needs and improve public trust in the agencies, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the agencies to issue additional guidance on community involvement. Such guidance should identify, and encourage the use of, best practices in seeking and incorporating community input, and establish minimum requirements for seeking community involvement on each stewardship contracting project.
Closed - Implemented
The Forest Service's primary stewardship contracting official reported that the agency has taken the following steps to address GAO's recommendation: (1) the Forest Service has added collaboration resources to its stewardship contracting Web page, including lessons learned from previous stewardship projects and frequently asked questions on collaboration; (2) the Forest Service has contracted with the Pinchot Institute to provide five 1-day training sessions on collaboration in stewardship contracting--two have taken place, and three more are scheduled for this fiscal year; and (3) the Forest Service is currently preparing additional guidance clarifying the role of collaboration in developing and implementing stewardship projects. On December 12, 2005, this guidance was added to Forest Service Handbook 2409.19, Chapter 60. Because the guidance appears to provide sufficient direction in community involvement, and because the Forest Service has collected information on lessons learned and has arranged for training on community involvement, this recommendation is closed.

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