Emails show confusion over timber payments, sequestration

Thanks to the Bend Bulletin for writing, and Terry Seyden for forwarding this article. It sounds very confusing..
For folks who haven’t worked in DC, it is a window on “how agencies really work with OMB”.. in this case fits and starts. And “how agencies coordinate” .. as in BLM and the FS doing things differently. Not to rehash old topics, but it seems to me that muddling the same kinds of programs through two agencies wastes time and taxpayer bucks. I’m sure there were many hours spent in meetings about this for each agency.

In a hearing Tuesday, the committee heard testimony and presented a report showing the confusion faced by federal agencies surrounding mandatory spending cuts called sequestration that went into effect on March 1, 2013.

On Jan. 15, 2013, the Forest Service dispersed $323 million in 2012 payments under the Secure Rural Schools program, including $63 million for Oregon. Since the money represented funds committed before sequestration went into effect on March 1, the Office of Management and Budget at first believed the cuts did not apply, although a lack of clarity seems to have surrounded the issue.

“The main question now is: Are these payments from 2012 (budget authority)? I think they are but can you please confirm that. If it is 2012 (budget authority), then the money is not sequesterable but the 2013 (budget authority) is sequesterable in these accounts,” wrote an OMB official in an internal email on Jan. 18, three days after the funds had been released.

The internal debate between OMB officials continued, according to documents, made even more confusing by the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to withhold 10 percent from its own timber payments due to sequestration. In emails in February, a different OMB official wrote that the Forest Service “took our guidance to act as normal and ran with it.”

“The Forest Service did not make an error. That is not the appropriate word,” a later OMB email states. “They opted to pay in full, knowing sequestration could happen. That is not an error.”

Subsequently, the Forest Service asked states to return $17.9 million in timber payments.

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