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Forest Service Decision-Making: A Framework for Improving Performance

RCED-97-71 Published: Apr 29, 1997. Publicly Released: Apr 29, 1997.
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Pursuant to congressional requests, GAO reviewed the Forest Service's decisionmaking process, focusing on: (1) the inadequate attention that the Forest Service has given to improving the process; (2) the lack of agreement, both inside and outside the agency, on how it is to resolve conflicts among competing uses on its lands; (3) unresolved interagency issues that transcend its administrative boundaries and jurisdiction; and (4) differences in the requirements of laws that help frame its decisionmaking.


Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
In light of the current tight budget climate, the annual competition for scarce resources within the Forest Service, and the questionable value of the agency's current long-term strategic plan, the Congress may wish to consider amending the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act to eliminate its requirement that the Forest Service develop a strategic plan covering a period of a decade or more. The agency would still be required to develop a long-term strategic plan covering a period of at least 5 years to comply with the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act.
Closed – Implemented
The Senate report (105-56) accompanying the bill (H.R. 2107) funding the Forest Service in fiscal year 1998 includes language barring further long-range planning requirements under the Renewable Resources Planning Act, thus eliminating the duplicate reporting requirement.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture Because the Forest Service has proposed removing from its forest plans measurable objectives for goods and services, such as quantities of wood for lumber and forage for livestock and numbers of opportunities for recreation, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief, Forest Service, to identify how the agency will link its long-term strategic goal of providing multiple benefits to satisfy people's needs for uses, values, products, and services within the capabilities of ecosystems with its annual performance goals and measures for gauging the progress made toward achieving the long-term goal and holding line managers accountable for their performance.
Closed – Implemented
The Forest Service's November 9, 2000, revised planning regulations did not address this recommendation.
Council on Environmental Quality To ensure that the Council on Environmental Quality's (CEQ) planned multiyear effort to reinvent the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969's (NEPA) implementation improves the efficiency and effectiveness of the NEPA process, the Chairman, CEQ, should change CEQ's regulations implementing NEPA to require, rather than merely allow, federal agencies to tier plans and projects to broader-scoped studies.
Closed – Not Implemented
In late 1997, in response to a cut in its appropriation, CEQ eliminated its "NEPA Reinvention" project under which it had intended to address this recommendation, stating it could no longer afford to continue the project.
Council on Environmental Quality To ensure that CEQ's planned multiyear effort to reinvent NEPA's implementation improves the efficiency and effectiveness of the NEPA process, the Chairman, CEQ, should change CEQ's regulations and guidance implementing NEPA to improve interagency coordination, identify a baseline of comparable environmental and socioeconomic data that are needed for agencies to implement the act, and assume or assign responsibility for collecting, managing, and making the data available to other users.
Closed – Not Implemented
CEQ has recently announced that it will no longer pursue NEPA reinvention due to a reduction in its funding.

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