NEPA for the 21st Century: Learning, adjusting, and solving problems
1249 S Vinnell Way, Suite 200
Boise, ID 83709
Phone: (208) 373-4170
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law by President
Nixon on January 1, 1970. NEPA analysis is one of the most publicly visible
functions of the Forest Service, and places considerable demand on the agency's
budgets and staff. NEPA also creates opportunities for federal managers and
the public to solve common problems, share lessons, and explore creative solutions
to environmental issue of the day. The NEPA for the 21st Century project examines
these challenges and opportunities.
What is the NEPA for the 21st Century project?
This project is a collaborative effort between Forest Service
Research and the Washington Office's Ecosystem Management Coordination
staff. We have sought out some of the best policy analysts in the
country, and have identified a cadre of academics, consultants,
lawyers, and other professionals to help with specific issues related
to various aspects about how the Forest Service approaches and
accomplished its NEPA responsibilities.
We began our studies by examining how the Forest Service and
other organizations work with NEPA. In this set of initial studies,
we identified aspects of the NEPA process that work well, aspects
that could become more efficient, and aspects that often prove
As the Forest Service considers ways to improve the outcomes associated
with its NEPA process, the goal of this research initiative is
to provide information that will inform the development and management
of this process. We will identify elements of the process we may
be able to improve, as well as elements that are unlikely to change.
As we gain insight into individual activities within the NEPA process,
we will also develop a holistic view of the agency's approach.
Is NEPA being used as a tool for producing informed and transparent
decisions? Or is it viewed as a hurdle in the way of expedient
management actions? A greater sense of how the agency perceives
NEPA will help us find the best solutions as we work to improve
What have we accomplished so far?
NEPA for the 21st Century aims to provide a creditable science
basis for policy development and management organizational activities.
It also seeks to contribute knowledge by examining the overall
system and encouraging the application of this knowledge in learning
We have completed several studies that compare the Forest Service
NEPA approach with the approaches of other federal and state agencies.
We have also conducted several surveys with Forest Service employees
to better understand their perceptions of the process and identify
factors that may contribute to success. These surveys have included
in-depth interviews with a small set of district rangers as well
as a more formal survey completed by over 3,300 employees who perform
NEPA activities as part of their normal duties. We have also explored
various business and administrative functions associated with improving
NEPA processes, including the identification of what is needed
to successfully implement large-scale change within an agency and
which processes lend themselves to further standardization.
NEPA for the 21st Century has employed a systems approach to NEPA
within the Forest Service. Instead of studying the individual pieces
of NEPA, this approach recognizes that NEPA is itself a complex
subsystem within an even larger system (the Agency). Dealing with
this complexity of interactions is difficult, and conventional
solutions may only discourage adoption of innovation or change,
because desirable outcomes from the existing system may be lost
Our key findings include:
- Agency personnel currently identify at least three different
purposes of NEPA, suggesting that this purpose needs clarification.
- Unit and staff morale are organizational elements critical
for maintaining the capabilities needed to succeed in resource
- Staff competency in NEPA-related activities heavily affects
environmental decision-making efficiency and effectiveness.
- The development of suitable measures and methods for assessing
NEPA efficiency will be most productive if focused on multi-dimensional
indicators that consider time, cost and stylistic aspects of
- Change alternatives for the NEPA process should take into account
how work environment and cultural norms affect decision-making.
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