U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho) has called for a criminal investigation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for mishandling tens of millions of dollars that were supposed to be used for conservation projects.
“Funds that were supposed to go to states have instead become a ‘slush fund’ for the Fish and Wildlife Service,” Chenoweth charged. “This goes beyond changing the law. It demands a thorough examination for possible malfeasance.” Up to $100 million may have been misspent over a period of 10 years, according to a House Resources Committee investigation.
Chenoweth reacted as the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) told her and other members of the Resources Committee in July that the FWS had mismanaged, wasted, or even used illegally millions of dollars collected under two programs, the Pittman-Robertson Act and the Dingell-Johnson Act. The programs collect federal excise taxes on guns, ammunition, fishing equipment, and similar sporting goods. The revenues are then supposed to be reallocated to state fish and wildlife conservation projects. The FWS itself is allowed to keep only a small percentage of the funds to cover the cost of administration. The GAO discovered these administrative funds had become a source of revenue to support other FWS programs and expenses.
The GAO also found that FWS had created its own unauthorized “administrative grants” program for grants to outside groups. The agency could not account for what the funds allocated through this program were used for. According to the GAO report, FWS records for the unauthorized grant program were in shambles: the “files maintained were incomplete, out of date, and disorganized and did not contain required financial forms and supporting documentation.”
“If an average American had mismanaged his own money and records like this,” said Chenoweth, “he would be facing an IRS audit and jail time. The federal employees who are responsible for handling the taxpayers’ money should be held to at least the same standard of accountability.”