CARES Act Funds for DOI's Wildland Fire Management Program as of June 19, 2020

Published by the Department of the Interior, Office of Inspector General on 2020-07-31.

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

               OFFICE OF
               INSPECTOR GENERAL

CARES Act Flash Report

CARES Act Funds for DOI’s Wildland Fire
Management Program as of June 19, 2020
                                 On March 27, 2020, the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid,
                                 Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which provided the
                                 U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) with $756 million to support the
                                 needs of DOI programs, bureaus, Indian Country, and the Insular Areas.
                                 As part of the $756 million, the Office of the Secretary received
                                 $157.4 million to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus
                                 across DOI operations, which includes the Wildland Fire Management
                                 (WFM) program.

                                 The DOI will continue to fulfill its firefighting mission during the
The DOI received
                                 COVID-19 pandemic. Firefighter safety is a top priority, and
$756 million                     according to the DOI’s website, the DOI created a special interagency
                                 team of medical and public health experts to review and synthesize
under the CARES Act to           COVID-19 guidelines used in wildfire operations. The team directs
respond to impacts from the      firefighters to follow the recommendations provided by the Centers for
coronavirus, including           Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which state that extra
$157.4 million for DOI           precautions should be taken to protect firefighters and other personnel
operations. As of June 19,       at fire camps from COVID-19. Fire camps are like small communities
2020, the DOI had approved       in many ways. For example, fire camps can include thousands of
$11.3 million for wildland
                                 people living together and working collectively to respond to a
fire operations:
                                 wildfire, often in remote areas. Therefore, the CDC’s guidance for
•   $3.5 million for the BLM     wildland firefighters recommends using screening programs,
                                 disinfectants, quarantine periods, and personal protective equipment
•   $3.4 million for the NPS     (PPE) when appropriate—all of which could lead to more requests for
                                 funding as the fire season progresses.
•   $2.5 million for the FWS
                                 As of June 19, 2020, the DOI approved funding of $11.3 million of the
•   $1.9 million for the BIA
                                 $157.4 million for the WFM program. To date, the WFM program has
The WFM program restores         obligated $547,596 (or 5 percent) and spent $381,431 (or 3 percent) of
and maintains resilient          the $11.3 million in approved funds. In this report, we provide details
landscapes, protects lives       about the CARES Act funds approved for fire management, and the
and properties, creates fire-    WFM program’s progress in obligating and spending those funds as of
adapted communities, and         June 19, 2020.
ensures safe and effective
response to wildfires.

CARES Act Flash Report • No. 2020-ER-042 • Issued July 31, 2020                                       1
DOI’s Wildland Fire Management Program
The DOI’s WFM program is composed of the four bureaus with wildland fire management responsibilities—the
Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service (NPS), and
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)—and the Office of Wildland Fire (OWF), which is responsible for
program coordination, accountability, and oversight of the WFM program budget. The OWF coordinated a fire
management request for CARES Act funding on behalf of the WFM program. The OWF request provided
estimates of items needed upfront, as well as items needed on an ongoing basis through the end of the fiscal
year. Because the OWF oversees the WFM program and coordinated most of the requests, we obtained data
from the OWF.

WFM Funding
The Office of the Secretary made part of its $157.4 million of CARES Act funds available for the WFM
program. To date, the DOI has approved funding for temporary firefighting facilities needed to maintain social
distancing and quarantine protocol; PPE, such as masks, gloves, sanitizers, and thermometers; additional labor
costs for operations and program management during the pandemic; and cleaning services and sanitation of
facilities and vehicles. As of June 19, 2020, the WFM program has obligated $547,596 (or 5 percent) and spent
$381,431 (or 3 percent) of the $11.3 million of approved funds (see Figure 1).

                            Figure 1: Funding Approved Through September 30, 2020 1

             WFM                Funding Approved To                       Obligations To                  Expenditures To
           Program                    Date ($)                              Date ($)*                        Date ($)†
                                               Temporary Firefighting Facilities
         BIA                                         1,856,000                                   02                                  0
         BLM                                         3,223,000                          343,571                            177,406
         FWS                                         2,379,000                                    0                                  0
         NPS                                         3,438,000                                    0                                  0
         Subtotal                                 $10,896,000                          $343,571                          $177,406
                                                Personal Protective Equipment
         BIA                                               1,000                                  0                                  0
         BLM                                            101,000                         101,000                            101,000
         FWS                                               1,000                                  0                                  0
         NPS                                               1,000                                  0                                  0
         Subtotal                                     $104,000                         $101,000                          $101,000

1 The funding data presented may not fully represent the total of funds available for the WFM program because the DOI allocated CARES Act
funding directly to each bureau, which then distributed it to its fire management program.
2 We used zeros to indicate the DOI has approved funding, so we would expect to see an obligation or expenditure.

CARES Act Flash Report • No. 2020-ER-042 • Issued July 31, 2020                                                                             2
                WFM               Funding Approved To                       Obligations To       Expenditures To
              Program                   Date ($)                              Date ($)*             Date ($)†
                                                                 Labor Costs
           BIA                                              25,000                           0                     0
           BLM                                            200,000                      100,025             100,025
           FWS                                              75,000                           0                     0
           NPS                                                     0                         0                     0
           Subtotal                                     $300,000                      $100,025            $100,025
                              Cleaning Services and Sanitation of Facilities and Vehicles
           BLM 3                                             3,000                       3,000               3,000
           Subtotal                                         $3,000                      $3,000              $3,000

           Totals                                 $11,303,000                         $547,596           $381,431

* Obligations are legally binding agreements that will result in expenditures.
† Expenditures are payments of funds, such as when the DOI receives an invoice or a drawdown

Suggested Improvement Actions
The CARES Act requires agencies to obligate all appropriations by September 30, 2021, and implementation
guidance states that agencies should fund programs to meet crucial needs. Because funding for wildland fires is
typically spent in response to fire emergencies, certain categories, such as temporary firefighting facilities and
labor costs, may take more time to obligate and expend funding, while categories like personal protective
equipment and cleaning services—which can be stored and used immediately—can be obligated and spent more
quickly. As the 2020 fire season ramps up, we expect to see an increase in obligation and expenditure of
approved funds.

We note that awards made in response to emergency situations are riskier than typical awards because they are
awarded quickly and often without competition, and because they have a higher purchase threshold than other
acquisitions. As a result, the DOI needs to carefully administer and manage CARES Act funds to ensure its
bureaus spend funds effectively, considering the increased amount of money available, the potential for
additional future costs, and the fast pace at which the money must be spent.

We will continue to monitor the DOI’s and the WFM program’s progress against significant reporting
milestones that our office previously outlined in our reports, Where’s the Money? DOI Use of CARES Act
Funds as of April 28, 2020 (Report No. 2020-FIN-036) and May 2020: Where’s the Money? DOI CARES Act
Funds as of May 31, 2020 (Report No. 2020-FIN-046).

3   The BLM requested this funding directly and did not coordinate through the OWF.

CARES Act Flash Report • No. 2020-ER-042 • Issued July 31, 2020                                                        3