GAO studies moving USFS to Dept. of Interior

This has been talked about off and on for years, but recently a subcommittee told the Government Accounting Office to study the possibility of moving the US Forest Service from the Dept. of Agriculture to the Dept. of Interior. Just because they are talking about it does not mean it’s going to happen, but now the Washington Post has picked up the story:

In Washington, the organizational chart helps bring order to chaos, sorting the many federal agencies of the vast bureaucracy into manageable boxes. Among some lawmakers who hold the purse strings, there is a belief that the U.S. Forest Service is out of place.

The 103-year-old agency, which manages 193 million acres of forests and grasslands, is part of the Department of Agriculture. Its bureaucratic cousins — the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, which manage 84 million acres, 96 million acres and 258 million acres of public land, respectively — are in the Interior Department.

The five agencies have overlapping missions that include fire prevention and suppression, natural resource conservation, fostering recreational uses, and regulating commercial activities such as logging, drilling, mining and livestock grazing.

At the request of the House Appropriations subcommittee on interior, environment and related agencies, the Government Accountability Office this month began examining whether it would make sense to move the Forest Service to Interior’s purview. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over both agencies.

“The public perceives them as being very similar,” said Robin M. Nazzaro, director of the Natural Resources and Environment group at GAO, which is conducting the study. “They’ve just asked us to look at, could any money be saved, and would it result in a more efficient, effective and coordinated management of federal lands and the natural resources?”

One argument in favor of such a move is that the Forest Service no longer is chiefly devoted to managing the harvesting of timber.

“Today the evolution of our forests has gone away from production and more towards preservation, and it seems to me that the natural move has made it over under the umbrella of the Department of the Interior rather than the Department of Agriculture,” Rep. Todd Tiahrt (Kan.), the top Republican on the subcommittee, said at a Feb. 12 hearing on the agency.