Valles Caldera:

Trust Has Made Some Progress, but Needs to Do More to Meet Statutory Goals

GAO-06-98: Published: Nov 16, 2005. Publicly Released: Nov 16, 2005.

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In 2000, Congress authorized the purchase of the Valles Caldera (the Caldera) in north-central New Mexico. The Valles Caldera Trust (Trust), a wholly owned government corporation, is to become financially self-sustaining and to manage the Caldera for multiple purposes while sustaining the land's valuable natural resources. GAO was mandated to assess the progress the Trust is making in meeting its statutory goals.

The Trust has made progress in meeting its goals to preserve and protect the Caldera for future generations as well as to provide for public recreation and sustained yield management. Specifically, it has (1) established a basic organization with about 25 staff; (2) drafted policy and procedures and contracted with the Department of the Interior's National Business Center for accounting services; (3) begun engineering and construction efforts to address infrastructure problems--roads, water systems, fences, and buildings; (4) established interim grazing and recreation programs; and (5) implemented an adaptive management approach that focuses on making management decisions based on scientific data. The Trust, however, still has much work to do to meet its goals, including achieving a financially self-sustaining operation. Strategic and performance plans with measurable goals and objectives: For example, the Trust must decide on the level of activities (e.g., grazing, hiking, and hunting) that will be allowed without seriously harming the land's resources, and yet will still provide sufficient recreational activity and sustained yield management. The Trust also must select additional opportunities for generating revenues, such as securing private donations. Plans to manage program risks: The Trust has not addressed program risks, including fire and legal liabilities. For example, the Trust lacks a fire plan, which would outline a decision-making process for responding to fires, and has not obtained liability coverage. Because it did not have a fire plan, the Trust spent about $338,000 in May 2005 to suppress a fire, which, in the opinion of the Forest Service Region 3 Fire Manager, could have been left to burn because the fire did not threaten any key resources or public infrastructure. Also, because it has not obtained liability coverage, the Trust has restricted the number of Caldera visitors. Mechanisms for monitoring progress: Among other things, the Trust has not had annual financial audits and has not prepared performance reports that would help it assess its progress toward meeting its financial and other goals. The Trust's efforts to raise the revenues needed to bring it closer to meeting its financial self-sustainability goal could be undermined by one or more of these issues. Frequent turnover in Board members and key staff has contributed to the problems experienced to date.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Trust meets its goals under the Preservation Act, to improve management oversight, and to increase accountability to Congress and other stakeholders, the Board of the Valles Caldera Trust should provide a status report or the auditor's final opinion on the Trust's financial condition in its January 2006 annual report to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Valles Caldera Trust

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Financial audits for fiscal years 2005 through 2009 have been completed.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Trust meets its goals under the Preservation Act, to improve management oversight, and to increase accountability to Congress and other stakeholders, the Board of the Valles Caldera Trust should obtain the annual financial statement audit for 2005.

    Agency Affected: Valles Caldera Trust

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A financial audit for fiscal year 2005 was completed.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Trust meets its goals under the Preservation Act, to improve management oversight, and to establish a more effective management control program, the Board of the Valles Caldera Trust should develop a plan for the timely replacement of key personnel.

    Agency Affected: Valles Caldera Trust

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Trust developed a plan for the timely replacement of personnel.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Trust meets its goals under the Preservation Act, to improve management oversight, and to establish a more effective management control program, the Board of the Valles Caldera Trust should develop mechanisms for periodic performance monitoring and reporting including annual performance reports that enable Congress and the Trust to track progress in achieving the Trust's program goals and objectives.

    Agency Affected: Valles Caldera Trust

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Trust developed a mechanism for periodically monitoring and reporting on its performance in the form of an annual report to the Congress in which the Trust reports on its accomplishments and performance during the preceding year. These reports have progressively improved in detail and comprehensiveness over recent years and have been a positive step toward monitoring and reporting on the Trust's overall performance.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Trust meets its goals under the Preservation Act, to improve management oversight, and to establish a more effective management control program, the Board of the Valles Caldera Trust should develop a plan for becoming financially self-sustaining that includes financial information detailing how and when the Trust will try to achieve this goal.

    Agency Affected: Valles Caldera Trust

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Trust has not developed a plan for becoming financially self-sustaining. In a November 2009 letter to Senators Bingaman and Udall, the Trust proposed changes to the Preservation Act that would eliminate the requirement for financial self sufficiency, noting that the Preserve does not have the income generating capacity to allow the Trust to be self sufficient without substantially impairing the very resources they are charged with preserving. The letter proposes that Congress instead set reasonable cost recovery as the financial goal for the Trust.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Trust meets its goals under the Preservation Act, to improve management oversight, and to establish a more effective management control program, the Board of the Valles Caldera Trust should develop a strategic and performance plan that identifies measurable goals and objectives for protecting and preserving the Caldera, providing recreation, sustaining yield, and becoming financially self-sustaining.

    Agency Affected: Valles Caldera Trust

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2012, the Trust developed a strategic plan covering the period from 2012 - 2018. This plan includes three long-term goals related to public access and use; natural and cultural resources; and financial sustainability. The strategic plan also identifies measurable objectives for each goal. For example, regarding public access and use, the strategic plan includes objectives to design and build a visitor center by fiscal year 2015 and design and build a transportation system, including roads, trails and ancillary facilities by fiscal year 2016.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Trust meets its goals under the Preservation Act, to improve management oversight, and to increase accountability to Congress and other stakeholders, the Board of the Valles Caldera Trust should arrange to conduct future annual financial audits in a timely manner.

    Agency Affected: Valles Caldera Trust

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Financial audits have been completed for FY 2005 through 2009.

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