Fish and Wildlife Service:

Federal Assistance Program Is Making Progress in Addressing Previously Identified Concerns

GAO-06-731R: Published: Jul 5, 2006. Publicly Released: Jul 10, 2006.

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), within the Department of the Interior, uses tax receipts from the sale of certain hunting, fishing, and boating equipment to fund the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration programs, which provide grants to state fish and wildlife management agencies to restore, conserve, manage, and enhance wildlife and sport fish resources. The Wildlife Restoration Program was established in 1938 following the passage of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, now referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act. The Sport Fish Restoration Program was established in 1950 by the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act. Since their inception, according to the Service, these programs have provided more than $9.5 billion in grants to states and U.S. territories through fiscal year 2005. In 1999 and 2000, GAO identified several instances of mismanagement in these grant programs. Following GAO's work, Congress and the Service acted to improve the programs. In 1999 and 2000, GAO testified on the Service's management and oversight of funds used to administer the Wildlife and the Sport Fish Restoration programs. These testimonies identified several instances of mismanagement of administrative funds. For example, in administering these programs, the Service did not have criteria for selecting some grant recipients, failed to provide adequate oversight of grantees, and did not maintain adequate grant files. In addition, GAO found that grant transactions could not be reconciled between regional and headquarter financial systems, resulting in millions of dollars in discrepancies. In response to our work and the work of others, Congress enacted the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs Improvement Act (Improvement Act) in November 2000. The Improvement Act amended the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act and the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act by specifying, among other things, how administrative funds should be used and setting levels for how much the Service can spend on administration of the programs. Before the Improvement Act, the maximum amount of administrative funds that could be used for implementing the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration programs was calculated as a percentage of the total tax receipts for each program. On the basis of these calculations, in 2000, over $16 million was made available for administration of the Wildlife Restoration Program and about $15 million was made available for administration of the Sport Fish Restoration Program. Since the Improvement Act, funds for administrative costs were fixed in 2001 through 2003 and, thereafter, have been determined by a formula that limits the annual funds available for administrative activities. In fiscal year 2005, the Service spent about $8.6 million per program on administration--about one-half of what was previously spent. On April 27, 2006, we briefed members of Congress on the extent to which the Service has taken corrective action to address the problems that GAO previously identified.

As a result of GAO's prior work and the Improvement Act in 2000, the Service has made changes that have had lasting impacts on the management of these programs. The Service has invested significant effort to make program and policy changes to address the concerns that we raised in our previous testimonies and to implement the Improvement Act. For example, in response to GAO's finding that the Service mismanaged grant programs, the Service terminated some programs and, for subsequent grant activity, has implemented new procedures for managing and auditing grants and maintaining grant files. To resolve problems involving reconciling grant transactions between regions and headquarters, the Service implemented improved financial systems and processes that include procedures for reconciling accounts across three national financial systems on a monthly basis. The regions no longer utilize separate tracking systems for their grants. While we found that the Service has implemented several new management policies and procedures aimed at addressing our previous concerns, a more definitive statement on the Service's progress would require additional review. Such reviews are routinely required by the Improvement Act, which directs the Department of the Interior's Office of Inspector General (OIG) to contract for biennial audits of the funds used to administer these programs. An audit of fiscal years 2001 and 2002 was completed and a report issued in 2005; the report did not identify any major weaknesses or concerns. Audits of subsequent years have not yet been done. Since we delivered our briefing to Congress, OIG officials stated that the OIG expects to solicit contract proposals for the audits of fiscal years 2003 and 2004 and fiscal years 2005 and 2006 in the summer of 2006.

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