Andy Stahl reminded me of the Forest Service’s previous work on Process Predicament. It’s a 40 page paper, and it is interesting to reflect on what has changed and what hasn’t in the last 16 years. Here’s what they said in 2002:
Unfortunately, the Forest Service operates within a statutory, regulatory, and administrative framework that has kept the agency from effectively addressing rapid declines in forest health. This same framework impedes nearly every other aspect of multiple-use management as well.
Three problem areas stand out:
1. Excessive analysis—confusion, delays, costs, and risk management associated with the required consultations and studies;
2. Ineffective public involvement—procedural requirements that create disincentives to collaboration in national forest management; and
3. Management inefficiencies—poor planning and decision-making, a deteriorating skills base, and inflexible funding rules, problems that are compounded by the sheer volume of the required paperwork and the associated proliferation of opportunities to misinterpret or misapply required procedures.
These factors frequently place line officers in a costly procedural quagmire, where a single project can take years to move forward and where planning costs alone can exceed $1 million. Even noncontroversial projects often proceed at a snail’s pace.
Forest Service officials have estimated that planning and assessment consume 40 percent of total direct work at the national forest level. That would represent an expenditure of more than $250 million per year. Although some planning is obviously necessary, Forest Service officials have estimated that improving administrative procedures could shift up to $100 million a year from unnecessary planning to actual project work to restore ecosystems and deliver services on the ground.
It is time to tailor the Forest Service’s statutory, regulatory, and administrative framework to the new era of public land management. Part of the solution will be internal. However, the problem goes far beyond the range of control of any single agency, or a single branch of the government.
The Forest Service will need to work with partners, both in and out of government, to establish a modern management framework. By working together with partners to create and operate within such a framework, the Forest Service can focus more of its resources on responsible stewardship and thereby improve public trust and confidence in the agency’s ability to care for the land and serve people.
Some of the efforts to improve NEPA included more contracting, better IT support for applications and a variety of other things (many of which our blog regulars were involved with). It sounds like EADM is covering some of the same territory. I’d be interested in the views of others on 1) what has been improved in this time period, and 2) what challenges remain.