GAO knocks Forest Service again

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories.

The General Accounting Office once again told the U.S. Forest Service what it was doing wrong. It took 12 pages.

For more than a decade, the investigative arm of Congress has issued dozens of reports telling the Forest Service how to do a better job. Always, the Forest Service pledges to do better. But in last month's report, investigators said the agency still hasn't heeded GAO advice that would save taxpayers millions of dollars.

"Forgone revenue, inefficiency and waste, increased vulnerability to fraud and abuse and lack of financial and performance accountability indicate to us that the American public is not receiving a fair return for its annual investment in the Forest Service," the GAO said.

Relatively simple policy changes could save the service $50 million a year:

* The agency could begin to charge fair-market value for the rights-of-way for pipelines and communication and power lines that cross its lands.

* The agency could stop taking oral bids on certain timber sales and switch to sealed bids, which generate higher prices.

The report also points a finger at Forest Service accountants for failing to know how $215 million of a $3.4 billion budget was spent.

Finally, back in 1980, the GAO asked the agency to inventory the national forests' natural resources because "without such an inventory, forest plans were bound to be inadequate." Because inventories remain unfinished, the Forest Service admits that forest plans are sometimes delayed two years or more.

The report can be read at http:// www.gao.gov/new.items/rl98135t.pdf.