Wildland Fire Management:

Improved Planning Will Help Agencies Better Identify Fire-Fighting Preparedness Needs

GAO-02-158: Published: Mar 29, 2002. Publicly Released: Apr 24, 2002.

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Each year, fires on federal lands burn millions of acres and federal land management agencies spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fight them. Wildland fires also threaten communities adjacent to federal lands. The Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and the Interior, the lead federal agencies in fighting wildfires, jointly developed a long-term fire-fighting strategy in September 2000. Five federal land management agencies--the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service--are working together to accomplish the plan's objectives. GAO found that the Forest Service and Interior have not effectively determined the amount of personnel and equipment needed to respond to and suppress wildland fires. Although the agencies have acquired considerably more personnel and equipment than were available in 2000, they have not acquired all of the resources needed to implement the new strategy. Despite having received substantial additional funding, the two agencies have not yet developed performance measures. The Forest Service simply measures the amount of fire-fighting resources it will be able to devote to fire fighting at each location, regardless of risk. Without results-oriented performance measures, it is difficult to hold the Forest Service accountable for the results it achieves. The Forest Service and the Interior agencies use different methods to report fire-fighting personnel costs--an approach that is not in keeping with policies requiring coordination and consistency across all aspects of fire management, including accounting for fire-related costs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to DOI official, the Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC) considered the DOI and FS approaches to allocating firefighting personnel costs and directed that FS adopt the DOI approach instead. He added that OMB was going to require the FS to implement the WFLC decision in FY 2005.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Interior should require the Interior agencies to change their method for allocating and reporting fire-fighting personnel costs--similar to the method now being used by the Forest Service to better reflect the cost of wildland fire suppression.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2002, the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior issued an Implementation Plan to carry out the objectives outlined in their 10-year Comprehensive Strategy. The Implementation Plan was based on a collaborative approach for reducing wildland fire risks to communities and the environment. Included in the plan are performance measures that specifically address the results to be achieved with the personnel and equipment obtained with the additional funding under the National Fire Plan. The performance measures will be used to assess agency actions beginning in fiscal year 2004.

    Recommendation: In order to better meet the objectives of the National Fire Plan and improve the Forest Service's and Interior's ability to identify their firefighting preparedness needs, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior should require the heads of their respective fire agencies to ensure that ongoing initiatives to address weaknesses in their preparedness efforts are fully implemented in a timely and consistent manner and across the agencies. In particular, the agencies need to develop performance measures identifying the results to be achieved with the personnel and equipment obtained with the additional funding provided under the National Fire Plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2002, the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior issued an Implementation Plan to carry out the objectives outlined in their 10-year Comprehensive Strategy. The Implementation Plan was based on a collaborative approach for reducing wildland fire risks to communities and the environment. Included in the plan are performance measures that specifically address the results to be achieved with the personnel and equipment obtained with the additional funding under the National Fire Plan. The performance measures will be used to assess agency actions beginning in fiscal year 2004.

    Recommendation: In order to better meet the objectives of the National Fire Plan and improve the Forest Service's and Interior's ability to identify their firefighting preparedness needs, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior should require the heads of their respective fire agencies to ensure that ongoing initiatives to address weaknesses in their preparedness efforts are fully implemented in a timely and consistent manner and across the agencies. In particular, the agencies need to develop performance measures identifying the results to be achieved with the personnel and equipment obtained with the additional funding provided under the National Fire Plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Under the National Fire Plan, the Forest Service and Department of the Interior are preparing and planning to implement a consistent preparedness planning model for all the fire agencies that provides cost-effective fire protection among all administrative boundaries, considers state and local fire protection needs and resources in the wildland urban interface, and is based on historic levels of fire activity. The model is expected to be implemented by September 30, 2004.

    Recommendation: In order to better meet the objectives of the National Fire Plan and improve the Forest Service's and Interior's ability to identify their firefighting preparedness needs, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior should require the heads of their respective fire agencies to ensure that ongoing initiatives to address weaknesses in their preparedness efforts are fully implemented in a timely and consistent manner and across the agencies. In particular, the agencies need to establish and single planning and budgeting system, applicable to all fire agencies, to determine fire-fighting personnel and equipment needs in accordance with up-to-date fire management plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Under the National Fire Plan, the Forest Service and Department of the Interior are preparing and planning to implement a consistent preparedness planning model for all the fire agencies that provides cost-effective fire protection among all administrative boundaries, considers state and local fire protection needs and resources in the wildland urban interface, and is based on historic levels of fire activity. The model is expected to be implemented by September 30, 2004.

    Recommendation: In order to better meet the objectives of the National Fire Plan and improve the Forest Service's and Interior's ability to identify their firefighting preparedness needs, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior should require the heads of their respective fire agencies to ensure that ongoing initiatives to address weaknesses in their preparedness efforts are fully implemented in a timely and consistent manner and across the agencies. In particular, the agencies need to establish and single planning and budgeting system, applicable to all fire agencies, to determine fire-fighting personnel and equipment needs in accordance with up-to-date fire management plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Under the National Fire Plan, the Forest Service and Department of the Interior have established a Task and Action Plan to address this recommendation. The agencies have developed a fire management plan template that incorporates the objectives and priorities of the 10-year Cohesive Strategy, and have determined a schedule for updating all fire management plans, using the template, by September 30, 2004.

    Recommendation: In order to better meet the objectives of the National Fire Plan and improve the Forest Service's and the Department of the Interior's ability to identify their firefighting preparedness needs, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior should require the heads of their respective fire agencies to ensure that ongoing initiatives to address weaknesses in their preparedness efforts are fully implemented in a timely and consistent manner and across the agencies. In particular, the agencies need to ensure that fire management plans are completed expeditiously for all burnable acres and are consistent with the national fire policy.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Under the National Fire Plan, the Forest Service and Department of the Interior have established a Task and Action Plan to address this recommendation. The agencies have developed a fire management plan template that incorporates the objectives and priorities of the 10-year Cohesive Strategy and have determined a schedule for updating all fire management plans, using the template, by September 30, 2004.

    Recommendation: In order to better meet the objectives of the National Fire Plan and improve the Forest Service's and the Department of the Interior's ability to identify their firefighting preparedness needs, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior should require the heads of their respective fire agencies to ensure that ongoing initiatives to address weaknesses in their preparedness efforts are fully implemented in a timely and consistent manner and across the agencies. In particular, the agencies need to ensure that fire management plans are completed expeditiously for all burnable acres and are consistent with the national fire policy.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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