oversight

South Florida Ecosystem Restoration: A Strategic Plan and a Process to Resolve Conflicts Are Needed to Keep the Effort on Track

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-04-29.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                    United States General Accounting Office

GAO                 Testimony
                    Before the Subcommittee on National Parks, Historic
                    Preservation and Recreation, Committee on Energy and
                    Naural Resources, U.S. Senate, and the Subcommittee on
                    Interior and Related Agencies, Committee on
                    Appropriations, U.S. Senate
For Release
on Delivery
Expected at
                    SOUTH FLORIDA ECOSYSTEM
9:30 a.m. EDT
Thursday
                    RESTORATION
April 29, 1999



                    A Strategic Plan and a Process to
                    Resolve Conflicts Are Needed to
                    Keep the Effort on Track

                    Statement of Victor S. Rezendes, Director,
                    Energy, Resources, and Science Issues,
                    Resources, Community, and Economic
                    Development Division




GAO/T-RCED-99-170
Messrs. Chairmen and Members of the Subcommittees:

Thank you for inviting us to participate in today’s joint oversight hearing
on the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Initiative. Restoring the South
Florida ecosystem is one of this administration’s top environmental
priorities. In 1993, federal agencies established the South Florida
Ecosystem Restoration Task Force to coordinate ongoing federal
restoration activities in this area. The Water Resources Development Act
of 1996 formalized the Task Force and expanded its membership to
include state, local, and tribal representatives and charged it with
coordinating and facilitating this long-term, complex effort. We are here
today to discuss our report,1 which was issued last week, on (1) how much
and for what purposes federal funding has been provided for the
restoration of the South Florida ecosystem and (2) how well the
restoration effort is being coordinated and managed. This work was
requested by the Chairpersons of the Senate Committee on Energy and
Natural Resources; the Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies,
Senate Committee on Appropriations; the Subcommittee on Interior and
Related Agencies, House Committee on Appropriations; and the
Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Emergency Management,
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

In summary, Messrs. Chairmen, we estimate that over $1.2 billion in
federal funds was provided for this effort from fiscal year 1993 through
fiscal year 1999. Over 75 percent of the federal expenditures from fiscal
year 1993 through fiscal year 1998 were made by agencies within the
Department of the Interior and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The
federal funding provided to date represents only a down payment. While
no official cost projection for the total restoration effort has been made, a
major component, the implementation of the Central and Southern Florida
Project Comprehensive Review Study, commonly referred to as the
Restudy, is estimated to cost an additional $7.8 billion. The costs will be
shared equally by the federal and state governments. The Restudy is
designed to substantially increase the amount of water that is delivered to
natural areas in South Florida while enhancing agricultural and urban
water supplies. According to the executive director of the Task Force, at
least $2 billion beyond the $7.8 billion will be needed to complete the
restoration effort. This money will be used to acquire additional lands,
construct other infrastructure projects, and eradicate exotic plant species.



1
South Florida Ecosystem Restoration: An Overall Strategic Plan and a Decision-Making Process Are
Needed to Keep the Effort on Track (GAO/RCED-99-121, Apr. 22, 1999).



Page 1                                                                      GAO/T-RCED-99-170
             Consequently, the restoration effort, which is expected to take at least 20
             years to complete, could cost at least $11 billion.

             The South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, a group that brings
             together representatives of federal, state, and local agencies and affected
             tribes, is responsible for coordinating the participating entities’
             implementation of the initiative. However, a strategic plan that clearly lays
             out how the initiative will be accomplished and includes quantifiable goals
             and performance measures has not yet been developed. In addition, the
             Task Force is a coordinating body, not a decision-making body, and thus is
             limited in its ability to manage and make decisions for the overall
             restoration effort. As our review indicates, even with the coordination
             efforts of the Task Force, two ongoing infrastructure projects that are
             integral to the restoration effort are taking longer and costing more than
             planned, in part because the federal and state agencies involved are unable
             to agree on components of these projects. Given the scope and complexity
             of the initiative and the difficulties already being encountered, additional
             delays and cost overruns are likely in the future, and the accomplishment
             of the initiative’s overall goals is at risk.

             Our report recommends the development of (1) an overall strategic plan
             for the restoration effort that will outline how the restoration of the South
             Florida ecosystem will occur and will identify the resources needed to
             achieve the restoration, assign accountability for accomplishing actions,
             and link the strategic goals established by the Task Force to
             outcome-oriented annual goals and (2) a decision-making process for
             resolving conflicts.


             The South Florida ecosystem extends from the Chain of Lakes south of
Background   Orlando to the reefs southwest of the Florida Keys. This vast region, which
             is home to more than 6 million Americans, a huge tourism industry, and a
             large agricultural economy, also encompasses one of the world’s unique
             environmental resources—the Everglades. For centuries, the Everglades
             provided habitat for many species of wading birds and other native
             wildlife, which depended upon the water flow that moved south from Lake
             Okeechobee to Florida Bay in a broad, slow-moving sheet before human
             intervention. However, the wetlands of the Everglades were generally
             viewed as an unproductive swamp to be drained for more productive uses.
             In recent decades, engineering projects, agricultural activities, and
             urbanization have diminished the historic broad, slow flow of water and
             have reduced the Everglades to about half its original size. These changes



             Page 2                                                      GAO/T-RCED-99-170
    have also had a detrimental effect on the environment. Wildlife
    populations have declined significantly, and some scientists believe that
    the reduced flow of freshwater into Florida Bay may be hastening its
    environmental decline.

    To address the deterioration of the ecosystem, the administration, in 1993,
    made the restoration of the Everglades and the South Florida ecosystem
    one of its highest environmental priorities. The South Florida Ecosystem
    Restoration Task Force was established by a federal interagency
    agreement to promote and facilitate the development of consistent
    policies, strategies, priorities, and plans for addressing the environmental
    concerns of the South Florida ecosystem. The Task Force consisted of
    assistant secretaries from the departments of Agriculture, the Army,
    Commerce, and the Interior; an assistant attorney general from the
    Department of Justice; and an assistant administrator from the
    Environmental Protection Agency. The Water Resources Development Act
    of 1996 formalized the Task Force and expanded its membership to
    include state, local, and tribal representatives. To accomplish the
    restoration of the South Florida ecosystem, the Task Force has established
    the following goals:

•   Get the water right—This means restoring natural hydrologic functions
    while providing adequate water supplies and flood control.
•   Restore and enhance the natural system—Restoring lost and altered
    habitats will involve acquiring land and changing current land uses, as well
    as halting the spread of invasive, exotic species and recovering threatened
    and endangered species.
•   Transform the built environment—This will involve balancing human
    needs with those of the natural environment and will require the
    development of lifestyles and economies that do not have a negative
    impact on the natural environment and do not degrade the quality of life.

    Participants in the restoration effort include 13 federal agencies,2 7 Florida
    agencies and commissions, 2 American Indian tribes, 16 counties, and
    scores of municipal governments. Representatives from the state’s major
    industries, the commercial and private sectors, and environmental and
    other special interest groups also participate in the restoration effort.




    2
     Ten of the 13 agencies are within 5 federal departments.



    Page 3                                                      GAO/T-RCED-99-170
                         Federal funding for the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Initiative
Over a Billion Dollars   does not come from a single source. In addition to funds appropriated
in Federal Funding       directly by the Congress for projects managed by the U.S. Army Corps of
Has Been Provided to     Engineers and for restoration activities designated in the 1996 Federal
                         Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act (Farm Bill), the federal agencies
Restore the South        participating in the initiative determine their contributions and allocate
Florida Ecosystem        funds from their own appropriations. Because the agencies account for
                         these funds independently, no complete and consolidated financial data on
                         the initiative are available.

                         Nevertheless, on the basis of the financial data we obtained from five
                         primary agencies involved in the restoration effort, we estimate that from
                         fiscal year 1993 through fiscal year 1999, over $1.2 billion in appropriated
                         funds has been provided to the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration
                         Initiative.3 As figure 1 shows, funding for the initiative has increased from
                         about $85 million in 1993 to $238 million in 1999.




                         3
                          We asked each agency to provide data on the funds provided for the initiative—appropriations from
                         fiscal year 1993 through fiscal year 1999 and obligations and expenditures through fiscal year 1998 (the
                         latest year for which complete data are available).



                         Page 4                                                                          GAO/T-RCED-99-170
Figure 1: Federal Dollars Appropriated
for the Restoration of the South
Florida Ecosystem, Fiscal Years
1993-99




                                         Note: 1996 appropriations include $200 million from the Farm Bill for additional restoration
                                         activities.




                                         Through fiscal year 1998,4 federal departments and agencies obligated
                                         about $883 million for various restoration activities, of which $684 million
                                         was spent by the agencies or distributed to the state and other nonfederal
                                         entities for restoration activities in South Florida. The restoration
                                         activities can be grouped into six major categories: (1) land acquisition;
                                         (2) management of federally owned facilities or natural resources, such as
                                         national parks, wildlife refuges, and a national marine sanctuary, which
                                         may affect or be affected by the restoration initiative; (3) science-related
                                         activities, such as mercury contaminant studies; (4) infrastructure, such as
                                         the construction of water control structures; (5) water quality and habitat
                                         protection, such as the Corps’ wetlands permitting program; and
                                         (6) information management and assessment, such as coastal mapping. As

                                         4
                                          Obligation data are available through fiscal year 1998 and should be compared with appropriations
                                         through fiscal year 1998. Through fiscal year 1998, $966 million had been appropriated and $883 million
                                         obligated.



                                         Page 5                                                                          GAO/T-RCED-99-170
                                          figure 2 shows, the major activities being conducted are in area/natural
                                          resources management (32 percent), land acquisition (31 percent), science
                                          (15 percent), and infrastructure (11 percent). Some of these categories,
                                          particularly area/natural resources and science, include activities that may
                                          be considered normal agency operations and would take place with or
                                          without the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Initiative.


Figure 2: Share of Federal Obligations,
by Category, Fiscal Years 1993-98                                                                 Infrastructure ($98 million)

                                                                                                  7%
                                                                                                  Water quality/habitat protection
                                                                                                  ($59 million)

                                                                                                  4%
                                                                                                  Information management ($32
                                                                                                  million)


                                                              •
                                                        •


                                                 • 11%                    32% •                   Area/natural resources
                                                                                                  management ($291 million)


                                                 15%
                                                   •


                                                                  31% •                           Land acquisition ($274 million)




                                                                                                  Science ($128 million)



                                          Note: Total obligations for fiscal years 1993-98 are $883 million. The individual totals may not
                                          equal the total obligations because of rounding.




                                          The federal funding provided to date represents only a down payment.
                                          While an official cost estimate for the total restoration effort has not been
                                          made, the implementation of the Central and Southern Florida Project
                                          Comprehensive Review Study, a major component of the restoration



                                          Page 6                                                                           GAO/T-RCED-99-170
                          initiative known as the Restudy, is estimated to cost $7.8 billion. These
                          costs will be shared equally by the federal and state governments. The
                          Restudy, which will propose modifications to the existing Central and
                          Southern Florida Project, is designed to substantially increase the amount
                          of water that is delivered to natural areas while enhancing agricultural and
                          urban water supplies. Additional efforts will be needed to complete the
                          restoration initiative. According to the executive director of the Task
                          Force, at least $2 billion more will be needed to acquire additional lands,
                          construct other infrastructure projects, and eradicate exotic plant species.
                          Consequently, the restoration effort, which is expected to take at least 20
                          years to complete, could cost at least $11 billion.


                          Critical to guiding an endeavor as complex as the South Florida
An Overall Strategic      Ecosystem Restoration Initiative is a strategic plan that outlines how the
Plan and a                restoration will occur, identifies the resources needed to achieve it,
Decision-Making           assigns accountability for accomplishing actions, and links the strategic
                          goals of the initiative to outcome-oriented annual goals. Such a plan for
Process Will Help the     the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Initiative has not yet been
Restoration Initiative    developed. In addition, although the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration
                          Task Force is responsible for facilitating and coordinating the initiative, it
Stay on Track             is not a decision-making body. However, as our review of two integral
                          projects indicates, the coordination efforts of the Task Force and the other
                          groups are not always sufficient to prevent schedule delays and cost
                          overruns. Unless these issues are resolved, there is little assurance that the
                          initiative will stay on track and be accomplished in a timely and efficient
                          manner.


South Florida Ecosystem   While the Task Force has published several documents and is in the
Restoration Initiative    process of developing other strategies and plans to address specific
Lacks a Strategic Plan    restoration issues, it has not yet developed an overall strategic plan to
                          guide the restoration effort. The documents published by the Task Force –
                          An Integrated Plan for South Florida Ecosystem Restoration and
                          Sustainability: Success in the Making, The Annual Interagency Cross-Cut
                          Budget, the Integrated Financial Plan, and annual reports – provide
                          information on the restoration activities of the participating agencies.
                          Although these documents contain some of the components of a strategic
                          plan, none, taken either separately or together, contains all the
                          components that we believe are needed to successfully manage the
                          initiative. A strategic plan that contains goals and a strategy for achieving
                          the goals would provide focus and direction to the restoration effort and



                          Page 7                                                      GAO/T-RCED-99-170
                            establish a benchmark for measuring performance. In addition, having a
                            strategic plan with measurable goals and performance measures would
                            provide the Congress, the state of Florida, and the other participants with
                            a sense of what can be achieved with the level of resources committed.

                            As noted, the initiative has many federal, state, tribal, and local
                            stakeholders. Given the large number of stakeholders, we believe that it is
                            particularly important that specific measurable goals and a strategy for
                            achieving the goals be clearly articulated in writing. In addition, with so
                            many stakeholders involved, turnover is inevitable. For example, just
                            recently, some of the representatives from the South Florida Water
                            Management District have changed and the chairman of the Governor’s
                            Commission for a Sustainable South Florida has submitted his resignation.
                            If an overall strategic plan were available, new or replacement
                            representatives could more quickly gain an understanding of what is
                            needed to complete the initiative successfully.


Coordination Has Not        Restoring an ecosystem as vast and complex as the South Florida
Prevented Schedule Delays   ecosystem will require extraordinary cooperation. The South Florida
and Cost Overruns           Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, established to coordinate the
                            development of consistent policies, strategies, plans, programs, and
                            priorities, is the first partnership of its kind and coordinates restoration
                            activities with federal, state, and local agencies, affected tribes, and the
                            general public. However, the Task Force is a coordinating body, not a
                            decision-making body. Our review indicates that even with the
                            coordination efforts of the Task Force and the other groups, two ongoing
                            infrastructure projects that are integral to the restoration effort are taking
                            longer and costing more than planned, in part because the agencies
                            involved have not been able to agree on components of the projects. Both
                            the Modified Water Deliveries project and the C-111 project, which are
                            intended to restore natural hydrologic conditions in Everglades National
                            Park, are more than 2 years behind schedule and together could cost about
                            $80 million more to complete than originally estimated.

                            Federal and state officials told us that the agencies involved in the
                            restoration effort have multipurpose missions that differ and sometimes
                            conflict. As a result, reaching consensus can be difficult. However, agency
                            officials noted the Modified Water Deliveries and C-111 projects are at
                            critical junctures and if the participating agencies cannot resolve their
                            disagreements, the success of these projects may be jeopardized.
                            Furthermore, Florida-based agency officials commented that without



                            Page 8                                                      GAO/T-RCED-99-170
    some entity or group with overall management responsibility and authority
    to resolve such differences, problems such as the ones encountered in
    implementing these two projects could continue to hinder the initiative.

    Messrs. Chairmen, restoring the South Florida ecosystem is a complex,
    long-term effort involving federal, state, local, and tribal entities, as well as
    public and private interests. Given the scope and complexity of the
    initiative and the difficulties already being encountered, our report
    recommends that the Secretary of the Interior, as Chairperson of the South
    Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, in conjunction with the other
    members of the Task Force

•   develop an overall strategic plan that will (1) outline how the restoration
    effort will occur, (2) identify the resources needed to achieve the
    restoration, (3) assign accountability for accomplishing actions, and
    (4) link the strategic goals established by the Task Force to
    outcome-oriented annual goals and
•   work with the organizations and entities participating in the restoration
    effort to develop and agree upon a decision-making process to resolve
    differences in order to accomplish the initiative in a timely and efficient
    manner.

    The Department of the Interior responded to our draft report on behalf of
    the five federal agencies that we asked for comments. In responding, the
    agencies agreed with the importance of strategic planning but believed
    that our report did not adequately acknowledge the substantial planning
    efforts that have already taken place and are ongoing. The agencies also
    pointed out that the Task Force is in the process of developing a plan
    much like the one called for in our report. Our report discusses and
    describes in some detail the documents published by the Task Force that
    provide information on the restoration effort, including the goals,
    activities, and accomplishments of the agencies. While we do not list all of
    the various strategies and plans developed by the agencies involved in the
    restoration effort, we do mention key planning efforts currently under
    way. However, as we mention in our report, an overall strategic plan that
    integrates all of the various documents and planning efforts of the Task
    Force has not yet been developed. Although a strategic plan is being
    developed, as the agencies observe, it is not expected to be complete until
    2001. Furthermore, on the basis of our conversations with the project
    leader responsible for developing this plan, we do not believe that it will
    include all of the components needed for an overall strategic plan such as
    we called for in our report.



    Page 9                                                        GAO/T-RCED-99-170
           The federal agencies also stated that our recommendation for the Task
           Force to work with the organizations and entities involved in the
           restoration effort to develop and agree upon a decision-making process to
           resolve conflicts is unrealistic and of questionable legality. Because we
           recognized that the restoration effort involves federal, state, tribal, and
           local governments and entities that have various missions and authorities,
           our recommendation was that the Task Force’s members work with the
           organizations and entities participating in the restoration effort to develop
           and agree upon a decision-making process to resolve conflicts in order to
           accomplish the initiative in a timely and efficient manner. Our
           recommendation does not envision the creation of another body to decide
           conflicts or resolve issues for the participants in the restoration of the
           South Florida ecosystem. Rather, what we have in mind is the
           establishment of a process, such as is employed in mediation and
           conciliation, to resolve conflicts and problems within the existing legal
           authorities and structures. As stated in the report, without some means to
           resolve these disagreements in a timely manner, problems such as those
           encountered in implementing the two projects discussed in our report
           could continue to hinder the initiative. In addition, the South Florida Water
           Management District, a key player and member of the Task Force, stated
           that the development and implementation of a conflict resolution process
           is very workable and would benefit the restoration effort.

           We also identified other issues in areas such as land acquisition, water
           quality, and science that may impede the progress of the restoration effort
           in the future. At this time, we have not reviewed these issues and do not
           know if there is any validity to the concerns raised. Messrs. Chairmen, that
           concludes our statement. We will be happy to respond to any questions
           that you or other Members of the Subcommittees may have.




(141327)   Page 10                                                    GAO/T-RCED-99-170
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