USDA FOREST SERVICE : Strategic Planning and Resource Assessment

Title Page and Introductory Sections

Message from the Chief

The Forest Service Performance and Accountability Report—Fiscal Year 2003 represents the dedication and achievement of the more than 33,000 employees of the agency. As a result of the Forest Service’s aggressive stance on improving financial accountability, we have again accomplished our goal of achieving an unqualified, “clean,” audit opinion in FY 2003. I believe this second unqualified audit opinion demonstrates to Congress, to the Office of Management and Budget, and to the American people that the Forest Service is making great strides in financial and performance accountability.

The natural resource and land management work of the USDA Forest Service continues to be held in high regard. We are committed to developing expert systems and processes that will enable us to meet constantly changing demands. In doing so, we will increase performance efficiencies, agility, and competitiveness in our workforce. We are refining all aspects of our operations in response to changing business practices so that we may better serve the American public, stakeholders, partners, and Forest Service employees. In 2003, the Forest Service revised its 5-year strategic plan to focus on outcomes to achieve sustainable resource management and set the goals and agency priorities for fiscal years 2004 through 2008.

The focus of public discussion and debate about Forest Service issues has shifted from issues of logging and road building to what we have identified in 2003 as four major threats to the Nation’s forests in the 21st century: fuels and fires, invasive species, loss of open space, and unmanaged outdoor recreation.

While our financial midyear review was impeded by operating under a continuing resolution beyond the first quarter of FY 2003, we have taken great measures to meet our financial requirements. Congress provided $636 million to repay the transfers of funds for fire suppression from 2002, which underscores our mutual commitment to mitigating the high risk of catastrophic wildfire. In 2003, the agency developed and implemented a strategy for cost containment on large wildfires. Also, as part of a multiyear transition to integrate agency performance with budget requests to Congress, the agency has developed and approved a model of a performance accountability system. In addition, the agency has awarded a contract for development of a prototype of the system to test in the Alaska Region.

The 2002 implementation of the Forest Service Strategy for Improving Organizational Efficiency addresses the five initiatives of the President’s Management Agenda, creating a business environment that makes the agency more responsive to our customers. As a result, in FY 2003, the agency aggressively implemented competitive sourcing and business process reengineering. The Forest Service made substantial progress toward the E-Government Initiative by creating the infrastructure and preparing the business case analyses for Recreation One-Stop, environmental planning records, streamlining of the permit process, and online citizen requests for specific information, especially that relates to recreation in the national forests and grasslands.

Our five-point strategic approach to human capital addresses a New Employee Orientation; leadership succession, a knowledge management working group to develop methods to capture employee knowledge, a recruitment program to resolve mission critical skill gaps, and workforce planning that addresses our diversity and competency needs. In addition, the Forest Service leadership has taken a proactive role in ensuring employees’ civil rights with special emphasis on Equal Employment Opportunity complaint processing and improving workforce diversity.

Striving to improve our efficiency and effectiveness as a competitive organization, we have completed most of the studies that are required to determine a most efficient organization. We have extended the May 23, 2003, timeline for completing the Information Technology infrastructure study into FY 2004 in order to achieve an accurate and thorough study in which our stakeholders, our employees, and the American public can all have confidence.

As we accomplish the President’s Healthy Forests Initiative, we are reducing layers of procedural delay, and streamlining our ability to protect communities and the Nation’s natural resources from devastating wildfires through stewardship contracting. We are working daily with partners to focus on what we leave on the ground—not what we take.

The Forest Service also completed several administrative reforms in FY 2003. The agency established two new categorical exclusions provided for under the National Environmental Policy Act that allow priority fuel treatments, including thinning and prescribed fire, and forest restoration, including reseeding and planting, to proceed quickly without the need for lengthy environmental documentation.

Additionally, the Forest Service:

  1. Revised an administrative appeals rule to expedite appeals of forest health projects and encourage early and more meaningful public participation;
  2. Improved the design, review, approval, and implementation of Healthy Forests Initiative projects that involve endangered species, using guidance developed by several agencies and issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service; and
  3. Implemented guidance from the Council on Environmental Quality to improve environmental assessments for priority forest health projects.

This Forest Service Performance and Accountability Report—Fiscal Year 2003 contains performance and financial data that are complete and reliable. The Management Controls, Systems, and Compliance to Laws and Regulations section contains a detailed assessment of the findings and needed improvements in some of the Forest Service’s performance data and explains how we plan to remedy those deficiencies in the future.