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Highlights

For years, GAO has raised concerns about the ability of the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service (Service) to track the amounts it obligates for and spends on timber sales and to use this information in managing the sales. Timber sales are generally carried out by ranger districts (the lowest level of the Service's decentralized organizational structure), which are overseen by national forest offices. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) within the Department of the Interior also conducts timber sales. This report examines the extent to which (1) the Forest Service tracks timber sales-related obligations and expenditures, including the extent to which the Service uses this information in making management decisions; (2) BLM tracks timber sales-related obligations and expenditures; and (3) both agencies track their timber sales-related revenue.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture 1. To ensure that field managers responsible for carrying out Forest Service operations have the data they need to manage effectively, and to provide the Congress and the public with useful cost data to assess the fiscal accountability of Service operations, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Forest Service to systematically determine the information needs of the field managers on whom the Service relies to carry out its operations, and, based on the results of this analysis, take appropriate action to provide data that meet those information needs. The Service might consider, for example, creating a subsidiary system to track obligations and expenditures at a detailed level without further burdening the Department of Agriculture's primary system, the Foundation Financial Information System.
Closed - Not Implemented
The Forest Service has not systematically determined the data needs of the field staff managing the timber program, nor has it created an approach to provide detailed data on obligations and expenditures associated with individual timber sales. Agency officials told us the agency was waiting until the Department of Agriculture's Financial Management Modernization Initiative was implemented to take additional steps related to cost accounting, but this implementation did not include the steps we had recommended.

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