White House Budget Office Criticizes Pacific Salmon Fundby CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - February 14, 2002
The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, which provides matching grants to West Coast states and Columbia River tribes for habitat restoration and other projects, has come under fire from the Bush administration.
The White House Office of Management and Budget criticized the program for failing to target funds to help those species that are most at risk, not having program-wide performance measures and being slow to distribute grants.
"While some 600 projects have been approved, the effects on Pacific salmon stocks are not yet known," the White House Office of Management and Budget said earlier this month in a performance assessment. "The program has not been able to allocate funds based on recovery needs of specific salmon populations."
The criticisms echo those made previously by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and other salmon advocates and by congressional appropriations committees. Legislation to permanently establish the fund, set standards, equalize funding allocations among states and allow Idaho to receive grants has passed the House in recent years but has died in the Senate because of opposition from Alaska and Washington members.
The Northwest congressional delegation and the governors of Oregon and Washington have been strong supporters of the program since it was created in 2000 during the Clinton administration to help state efforts to restore salmon and comply with the Endangered Species Act. The number of Pacific salmon and steelhead runs on the threatened or endangered species list had grown to 26 by then.
The OMB report noted that Alaska has no threatened or endangered salmon populations.
"Within states there are competitive processes to select projects based on the state established priorities," it said in the one-page assessment. The administration has urged Congress to allocate funds program-wide "based on protecting those salmon populations that are most at risk as a first priority," but it has not supported the change.
The salmon fund was just one of more than 200 federal programs and agencies that were reviewed by OMB in a document accompanying President George W. Bush $2.2 trillion budget for fiscal year 2004. Released Feb. 4, it is the first time the administration's multi-volume budget has included a book of performance assessments.
The new budget proposes $90 million for FY04, the same amount as this fiscal year. That is down from $115 million approved by Congress for FY02.
The fund is administered by the Department of Commerce, which includes the National Marine Fisheries Service. Department officials agreed in general with OMB's criticism and said they have been working with states to develop accountability and reporting requirements to ensure the money is being spent on projects that benefit salmon and not used to supplement other state fish and wildlife agency needs. The department has not been able to make annual reports to Congress on how the money has been spent. But they said the need to develop individual agreements with each state was time-consuming and slow.
In rating the program, OMB said its results have not been demonstrated. OMB has directed the department to complete development of program wide, long-term performance measures by June. "Because (it) has had to negotiate individual agreements with each state, fund distributions have taken longer than expected" and the three-year-old program "has not finalized annual measures yet."
Congress has divided the funds unevenly among states, with Washington and Alaska getting about twice as much as Oregon and California. For FY03 the allocation is $28 million for Washington, $22 million for Alaska, $14 million apiece for Oregon and California; $9 million for Pacific coastal tribes; and $3 million for Columbia River tribes.
At the same time, the House and Senate appropriations committees in their report on the FY03 spending bill noted "the lack of accountability and performance standards for resources distributed to restore endangered and threatened salmon through the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund."
The committees noted that the federal government has "substantial legal obligations under the Endangered Species Act" and faces "adverse legal consequences" if it fails to make progress toward recovery. Yet the administration has not given any assurances "that any of these funds have contributed to the recovery of Pacific salmon," they said. "This is particularly important at a time when the Department (of Commerce) is struggling to respond to a huge litigation caseload, which the Committee has provided substantial funds to help reduce."
The spending committees agreed that a mechanism for assuring legal and fiscal accountability is required for distribution of funds to states.
They directed Commerce Department officials to enter into cooperative agreements with the states and tribes that are using funds for recovery of listed species to clarify state and tribal involvement in regional and local recovery programs. Also, the department was directed to provide an annual report to no later than March 30 of each year. The annual report is to list projects funded through the Pacific Salmon Recovery Fund; their projected and actual results, particularly focusing on progress toward recovery of endangered and threatened salmon species; and projected ending date for funding needs based on recovery schedules.
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