USDA FOREST SERVICE : Strategic Planning and Resource Assessment

FY 2003 Performance Report

Supporting Performance Management with Program Evaluations

In Managing for Results 2002, A PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for The Business of Government (2001), the authors suggest a conceptual framework to describe the major stages in the development and use of systematic information for performance management. The four uses of program evaluations identified are:

  • Strategic and Program Planning.
  • Improving Program Delivery.
  • Accountability.
  • Attributing Results to an Agency’s Programs.

Strategic and Program Planning

After an 8-year hiatus, Ecosystem Management Coordination (EMC) conducted program evaluations in two regions—Region 4, the Intermountain Region, and Region 6, the Pacific Northwest Region. In those 8 years, significant changes in the Forest Service have occurred. These include staffing at all levels of the agency; new policies for forest planning, roadless area management, the use of categorical exclusions; an Office of Inspector General evaluation of the NEPA process and timber sales; new case law in several relevant areas; and changing information management policy and procedures.

The evaluations focused on proven efficiencies in the oversight of national forests and grasslands; program oversight or procedures still needing improvement; and recommendations by each regional leadership team. The evaluation found that units scheduled for Land Resource Management Plan revisions have, or will have, business plans in place. Both regions realize that the accountability for business plans needs to be in place before forest plan revision begins. It is unclear how the very complex interagency relationship and assessment structure in each region will be addressed in the revision process. The regions are aware, however, of these complexities and will provide guidance as revisions begin.

PricewaterhouseCoopers reviewed NFS financial and operational business practices in Region 8, the Southern Region. The focus of the evaluation was on improving business management practices. The evaluation addressed business processes needed for aligning facilities and services, considering available resources, pricing, and customer needs.

Annually, the six regional research stations, the Forest Products Laboratory, and the International Institute of Tropical Forestry within R&D evaluate needs at the various levels, assign priorities, and request funding. Requests are carefully reviewed and coordinated, and needs are identified as critical at the national level and then merged into a National Research Program. The base R&D program, however, is assembled from individual field submissions.

Recreation, Heritage, and Wilderness Resources conducted a program review in Region 10, the Alaska Region, in July. Recommendations from the evaluation support setting targets at a modest level because flat or reduced heritage funding necessitates supporting other agency programs. While this work helps protect heritage resources from the effects of other management activities, it does little to accomplish heritage program stewardship or public outreach goals as mandated in the National Historic Program Act.

Improving Program Delivery

After reviewing the noxious weed program in FY 2002 within Region 5, the Pacific Southwest Region, the Washington Office NFS staff completed the report and made recommendations in FY 2003. The report finds that partners at the Federal, State, and local levels are collaborating on cooperative weed management projects, but significant challenges must be overcome.

R&D revised approximately 10 percent of research work unit descriptions to reflect changes in the proposed research mission, problem, or approach as a result of national reviews of the work unit programs. R&D staff interviewed employees and station customers for each R&D review, enhancing program delivery internally and to external customers.

National-level trust fund reviews were conducted, with onsite field inspections in Region 2, the Rocky Mountain Region, Region 5, and Region 4. Most wildlife and fisheries projects funded through the Knutson-Vandenberg (K-V) Fund are well planned, documented, and implemented; however, some opportunities to use additional available funding to accomplish meaningful habitat improvements were missed. Also, a task force consisting of agency personnel, State fisheries department personnel, and representatives from conservation organizations began a thorough national-level review of the fisheries program. The first site visit was in Region 2; the review will continue into FY 2004.

Valuable guidance in shaping the R&D program and identifying research needs at regional levels comes from critically reviewing customer, research user, and peer comments. For example, as R&D began reaching out to underserved communities, they identified the need to expand social science research effort. Many minorities do not know about national forests, and others, because of perceived barriers, do not use them. R&D believes this is a subject worthy of special emphasis.

National Visitor Use Monitoring surveys, the primary data source for the USDA Forest Service Visitor Use Program, were conducted on 31 national forests and grasslands in FY 2003, with results reported in FY 2004. In FY 2003, individual forest results were published for 29 national forests and grasslands surveyed in FY 2002.

The regional accessibility reviews have highlighted the need to standardize the information reporting formats so that the total number of facilities and programs that are accessible across the agency can be accessed.

Accountability

In FY 2003, three trust fund program reviews were conducted in Regions 2, 3, and 4. The results of these reviews are described below:

In Region 2, documentation, oversight, and management of the K-V Fund, Brush Disposal (BD), and Salvage Sale Funds could be improved. An opportunity exists to integrate biological and physical resource specialists earlier in the design of these projects. Recommendations included increasing oversight of these funds by resuming at least biannual trust fund workshops and conducting trust fund reviews on every forest on a 4-year cycle.

In Region 3, the Southwestern Region, documentation, oversight, and management of the K-V, BD, and salvage Sale Funds could be improved. Also, staff knowledge of trust fund programs, policies, and procedures is limited, and established policies, procedures, and direction related to the K-V Fund are not being properly implemented. Recommendations included reinstituting periodic forest-level trust fund reviews, having each forest appoint a K-V Fund coordinator, and providing the necessary training for these coordinators.

In Region 4, documentation could be improved; some financial direction, policy, standards, and procedures are unclear or incomplete; and coordination between resource and financial management staff areas can be improved. Recommendations included increasing oversight of the trust funds at the forest level, coordinating with the Washington Office to clarify financial direction and then disseminating this direction to the forests and districts as it becomes available, and implementing a review procedure for trust fund balances that involves resource and financial management staff.

In conjunction with the Office of General Counsel and the USDA Hazardous Materials Management Group, the ECAP program reviewed the ECAP Programs in Region 2, Region 8, and Region 9, the Eastern Region. All regions are weak in complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act. Region 8 currently is understaffed in their Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act program and is falling behind the other regions.

The Infra Rangeland Module, which tracks national forest grazing allotments and permits, was reviewed to evaluate long-term progress on the completion of allotment NEPA procedures. The national forests met approximately 50 percent of their scheduled work from 1996 through 2002. The delay in meeting the schedule was due to difficulty in moving through the NEPA process, appeals of project decisions, lack of trained field personnel, inadequate project funding, and diversion of personnel to other higher-priority work (fire duty).

The Washington Office Lands Staff conducted a Lands Policy and Oversight Review of Region 9 in FY 2003. This review focused on the Land Ownership Adjustment program, and specifically addressed the manner in which the regional office was fulfilling its oversight responsibilities of the Region 9 national forests. The review was physically limited to the regional office staff and leadership. There were several organizational and staffing issues identified and, as a result of this review, the region is taking action to place more responsibility with the Regional Lands Director for coordinating all lands transactions between the forest supervisors, the regional forester, and the Washington Office NFS Deputy Area. Additionally, there has been significant improvement in coordination and communication between the Congressional delegations and the Washington Office Legislative Affairs and Lands Staffs. This in turn has been positive in assisting third parties and others to better focus their efforts negotiating and facilitating lands transactions. Another result has been the clear direction from the regional forester to selected forest supervisors to engage in collaborative land ownership adjustment planning within selected States to better direct efforts of all parties in developing a desired public/private landownership base. Recommendations relating to improving lands skills have been implemented and the Washington Office and region are working together to provide the necessary development opportunities.

Delayed or Postponed Evaluations

No national-level reviews of the water, soils, or weather programs were done in FY 2003. A national-level review of the air program was planned for FY 2003, but was delayed, leaving no clear focus for regions in filling program vacancies or in addressing the changing workloads due to the Presidential Management Initiatives.

Also, no program evaluation was done in Minerals and Geology Management, as a result of extended vacancies in the directorate as well as higher national priorities.