Federal deal-making threatens citizens’ rights

Published April 1, 2002

If you care about CARA, the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act, and the continued management of fish and wildlife resources for the benefit of all citizens of the United States, you might be interested in what follows. If you are concerned about bureaucrats forming illegal alliances that threaten your freedom to hunt, fish, and trap, you might also find the following worthy of your time.

No accountability

Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson generate roughly $650 million per year. The laws require that each state or territory receiving money must be audited by the federal government every five years. There have been no audits of the states and territories on any cycle, much less the mandated five-year cycle, for nearly 20 years.

The acts’ lead sponsors, and knowledgeable wildlife managers across the country, considered audits a crucial element in the federal government’s oversight role. Honest audits were needed to keep the occasional state bureaucrat or politician from diverting funds from sportsmen to parks, prisons, and state motor pools. Audits would also ensure that profits from timber sales and other such things stayed with sportsmen-oriented pursuits.

Five years ago, as scandal and corruption overtook the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) administration of Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson, auditors were retained to complete the mandated, uniform, and thorough audits required in the two laws for the past 60 and 40 years, respectively. They were given five years to complete their investigations and file their reports.

Of the 60 required reports, 32 were completed on time … and then the auditors were fired.

The auditors had estimated they’d need an extra six months to finalize the remaining 28 reports. The far-reaching and long-overdue investigation had required that new auditors be trained in the analysis of fish and wildlife operations. Some states refused auditors access to the financial and operations data they needed to conduct their investigations. Some USFWS administrators worked behind the scenes with state lobbyists to thwart the investigations and fire the auditors. They succeeded.

Independent and objective?

Today, boxes of draft information languish in government offices. Having fired the auditors who gathered the information–and thus are in the best position to understand, interpret, and report it–the USFWS is paying the Office of the Inspector General in the U.S. Department of the Interior millions of dollars to complete the audits.

Never mind that the Inspector General doesn’t do audits, or that any auditor worth his salt will tell you no one can take reams of audit notes developed by others and write proper reports from them. And never mind that even if they were to try, state government officials would have an easy time challenging the findings, since the hands-on, investigating auditors aren’t available to explain or defend their work.

In 1998, the Solicitor in the U.S. Department of the Interior advised the Inspector General and USFWS officials that

“It would not be proper for the OIG to enter into a reimbursable agreement with FWS to perform audits of FWS grants, because such an agreement may involve an improper augmentation of OIG appropriations. In addition, the risk that this kind of agreement would have a detrimental impact on the OIG’s independence and objectivity weighs against this course of action.”

The Office of the Inspector General acts as a “watchdog” over the activities of Interior Department agencies, reporting to the Secretary of the Department. It’s not difficult to imagine the mischief possible if the Inspector General were paid millions of dollars by USFWS–one of the agencies the IG is charged with monitoring.

It only gets worse

The impropriety of the relationship notwithstanding, USFWS continues to pursue an arrangement whereby the Inspector General’s office will conduct all future audits of Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson spending in the states. By becoming USFWS contractors–paid with millions of excise tax dollars from sportsmen–the Inspector General’s office will grow beyond what Congress, through the appropriations process, has authorized.

It won’t be long before the Inspector General’s office is effectively under the control of an agency it is supposed to be monitoring. Once that happens, even the potential for accountability in the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson programs will be lost.

Worse still, the battle over the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA) is looming large again this year. USFWS officials and staffers for their lobbying group, the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, have predicted CARA will pass this year. If it takes 124 USFWS staffers to administer $650 million in Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson funds today, imagine how many it will require to administer the billions in CARA funds that would pass through the agency?

CARA will destroy the relationship between state conservation agencies and the sportsmen and recreationists who reside in those states. State agencies will be answerable to federal politicians and bureaucrats for their shares of CARA funding. Can we reasonably expect them to do what’s best for the residents of their state, when the powerful national and urban lobby groups who call the shots in Washington want something else?

If CARA passes, expect state fish and wildlife agencies to metamorphose into mini-federal agencies. Their mixed-use, sportsmen-friendly policies will disappear, replaced by policies disproportionately favoring endangered species, roadless forests, and land acquisition. Cooperation with the National Trappers Association and Sportsman’s Alliance will be replaced by unpublicized meetings with the Fund for Animals, Humane Society of the U.S., PETA, and Animal Protection Institute.

For 30 years, I worked as a state and federal employee in wildlife management. Though no longer my job, it remains my passion. I don’t like what I see these days, and I pray that each of you who care as much as I do will do your best to set things right.

Jim Beers is a retired wildlife biologist and refuge manager of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.