SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOC67202 CC
REVIEW THE INSPECTOR GENERAL'S REPORT ON USDA'S OFFICE OF THE UNDER SECRETARY FOR NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT AND THE URBAN PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM
SUBCOMMITTEE ON DEPARTMENT OPERATIONS,
OVERSIGHT, NUTRITION, AND FORESTRY
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SIXTH CONGRESS
SEPTEMBER 20, 2000
Serial No. 10662
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPrinted for the use of the Committee on Agriculture?
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
LARRY COMBEST, Texas, Chairman
BILL BARRETT, Nebraska,
JOHN A. BOEHNER, Ohio
THOMAS W. EWING, Illinois
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
CHARLES T. CANADY, Florida
NICK SMITH, Michigan
TERRY EVERETT, Alabama
FRANK D. LUCAS, Oklahoma
HELEN CHENOWETH-HAGE, Idaho
JOHN N. HOSTETTLER, Indiana
SAXBY CHAMBLISS, Georgia
RAY LaHOOD, Illinois
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
BOB SCHAFFER, Colorado
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
KEN CALVERT, California
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCGIL GUTKNECHT, Minnesota
BOB RILEY, Alabama
GREG WALDEN, Oregon
MICHAEL K. SIMPSON, Idaho
DOUG OSE, California
ROBIN HAYES, North Carolina
ERNIE FLETCHER, Kentucky
CHARLES W. STENHOLM, Texas,
Ranking Minority Member
GARY A. CONDIT, California
COLLIN C. PETERSON, Minnesota
CALVIN M. DOOLEY, California
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina
DAVID MINGE, Minnesota
EARL F. HILLIARD, Alabama
EARL POMEROY, North Dakota
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
SANFORD D. BISHOP, Jr., Georgia
BENNIE G. THOMPSON, Mississippi
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
MARION BERRY, Arkansas
MIKE McINTYRE, North Carolina
DEBBIE STABENOW, Michigan
BOB ETHERIDGE, North Carolina
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCCHRISTOPHER JOHN, Louisiana
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
DAVID D. PHELPS, Illinois
KEN LUCAS, Kentucky
MIKE THOMPSON, California
BARON P. HILL, Indiana
JOE BACA, California
WILLIAM E. O'CONNER, JR., Staff Director
LANCE KOTSCHWAR, Chief Counsel
STEPHEN HATERIUS, Minority Staff Director
KEITH WILLIAMS, Communications Director
Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia, Chairman
THOMAS W. EWING, Illinois,
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
CHARLES T. CANADY, Florida
JOHN N. HOSTETTLER, Indiana
SAXBY CHAMBLISS, Georgia
RAY LaHOOD, Illinois
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJERRY MORAN, Kansas
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
GREG WALDEN, Oregon
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina,
Ranking Minority Member
MARION BERRY, Arkansas
BENNIE G. THOMPSON, Mississippi
DAVID D. PHELPS, Illinois
BARON P. HILL, Indiana
MIKE THOMPSON, California
DAVID MINGE, Minnesota
JOE BACA, California
C O N T E N T S
Clayton, Hon. Eva M., a Representative in Congress from the State of North Carolina, prepared statement
Goodlatte, Hon. Bob, a Representative in Congress from the State of Virgina, opening statement
Letter of October 4, 2000 to Mr. Lyons
Lyons, James, Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPrepared statement
Viadero, Roger C., Inspector General, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Serrano, Hon. Jose E., a Representative in Congress from the State of New York
REVIEW THE INSPECTOR GENERAL'S REPORT ON USDA'S OFFICE OF THE UNDER SECRETARY FOR NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT AND THE URBAN PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2000
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Department of Operations,
Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry,
Committee on Agriculture,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 10:15 a.m., in room 1300 of the Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Bob Goodlatte (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Members present: Moran, Clayton, Berry, Phelps, Thompson of California, Baca, and Stenholm (ex officio).
Staff present: David Ebersole, senior professional staff; Brent Gattis, staff director, Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry; Alan Mackey, Wanda Worsham, clerk; Callista Gingrich, Quinton Robinson, and Anne Simmons.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. BOB GOODLATTE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF VIRGINA
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Good morning. This hearing of the Subcommittee on Department of Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry to review the Inspector General's report on the USDA's Office of the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment and the Urban Resources Partnership Program will come to order.
I would like to welcome our witnesses this morning. First, we have with us Inspector General Roger Viadero. His outstanding work and commitment has insured integrity with our USDA programs and agencies. Mr. Viadero's work including Project Talon that removed fugitives from the food stamp roles and put them in prison where they belong is but one example of how he has saved American taxpayers millions of dollars. A more recent example is his work in undercovering USDA employees' illegal grading of fresh produce at the Hunts Point Market.
Today we are here to discuss the Inspector General's Audit Report on the Urban Resources Partnership Program. Among other items this audit has uncovered funds originally allocated by Congress for agriculture conservation measures, which were subsequently diverted to such things as paying for transportation costs for Sierra Club outings in Los Angeles, hiring an artist to paint murals on residential buildings in Los Angeles, backing a lawsuit against owners of derelict properties in East St. Louis, IL and provide almost $750,000 for salaries and benefits of coordinators for urban projects, even though they were not Federal employees. This money would have gone to programs originally destined for America's struggling farming and ranching communities. To quote the OIG's audit, ''The URP was implemented without specific statutory authority, appropriated funds, or issuance of regulations. The Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment initiated URP by directing other USDA agencies to implement the initiative using funds appropriated for other programs. As a result over $20 million in USDA funds were improperly expended or obligated for the URP Program during fiscal years 1994 through 1998.''
This is simply another example of waste, fraud, and abuse on the watch of the USDA officials. American taxpayers deserve a Department of Agriculture that conducts its agencies and programs efficiently and responsibly. The URP Program is yet another example of a creative idea that has been dealt a debilitating blow by Department mismanagement and complacency. It is high time for the USDA to be held accountable to a higher standard of service.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And we would also like to welcome the Under Secretary, Mr. James Lyons, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment with the USDA.
At this time I would ordinarily recognize our ranking member, and she has timed her entrance absolutely perfectly. If you are ready.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I will submit my statement for the record.
[The prepared statement of Mrs. Clayton follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF HON. EVA M. CLAYTON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
The U.S. Constitution provides this Congress with the authority to make all laws that we deem necessary to promote the health and well being of our nation, which includes natural resources.
In order to make our legislative intent clear, Mr. Chairman, no legislation, coming from this committee, becomes law without many hours of research, consultations, and debate. An agency should not undo what we have done.
But, we all can agree that there are those occasions where we are not as clear in our legislative intent as we could have been. Also, there are those occasions where the Congress carefully delegates authority to an agency to fill in the blanks when we feel that an agency has experience that we do not have.
Mr. Chairman, this oversight hearing will examine whether Congress provided the specific authority for the existence of the Urban Resources Partnership Program within the Office of the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. In a July 26, 1999, opinion issued to the Forestry Service and Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Office of the General Counsel determined that there was no authorizing legislation for Urban Resources Partnership. Of 156 Urban Resource Partnership awards reviewed for almost $4.4 million, USDA General Counsel found that 131 awards or 84 percent for $3.4 million did not meet the purposes. The joint Forest Service and Natural Resource Conservation Service management review also reported that Urban Rural Partnership projects or components of projects were funded that did not fall into the authorities of FS or NRCS.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We are here today to see if: (1) the Urban Rural Partnership met the statutes and authorities, (2) if Urban Rural Partnership answered the allegations with recommendations, and (3) if the Department has published in the Federal Register for comment the control procedures to be established at the Under Secretary level to ensure that program initiatives are reviewed for implementation by Office of General Counsel.
Also, we will look at whether we delegated any authority to the Secretary of Agriculture that could have given life to the Urban Resources Partnership Program or if this authority was implied in the stated authorities.
I do not believe that we intended to create this program by spending appropriated funds from the Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, however, I am open to a closer examination of the existing language.
Control procedures need to be implemented at the Office of the Under Secretary for Chiefs of Forestry Service and National Rural Conservation Service to assure that USDA and OMB regulations are adhered to for all award programs. We are here because we wish to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem, with respect to how our government spends money.
Mr. Chairman, I look forward to hearing from the witnesses.
Mr. GOODLATTE. At this time we are pleased to welcome our panel. Mr. Roger C. Viadero, the Inspector General of the USDA, and Mr. James R. Lyons, Under Secretary, Natural Resources and the Environment. I would like to welcome you. As you both know from many years of experience your full statements will be made a part of the record, and we would welcome to receive your testimony at this time, starting with Mr. Viadero.
STATEMENT OF ROGER C. VIADERO, INSPECTOR GENERAL, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Mr. VIADERO. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I am pleased to be here to provide testimony about the Department of Agriculture's Urban Resources Partnership or URP Program. The Department initiated the URP Program in fiscal year 1994. The Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment established URP to work directly with local people on natural resource-related projects in urban areas. USDA expenditures for URP totaled $20.3 million in 13 cities or areas through fiscal 1999.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The prescribed process for implementing a Federal Assistance Program was not followed for URP. As it was initiated without specific statutory authority or Congressional appropriations, the program was financed using funds appropriated for other existing forest service and NRCS programs.
Further, regulations were not promulgated in the Federal Register to publicize the objectives. In 1999 the Office of General Counsel determined there was no authorizing legislation for URP and concluded the Forest Service and NRCS had limited authority to provide assistance under the URP Program. The General Counsel stated that the lack of specific authorizing legislation for URP limited NRCS' ability to provide funds to activities involving soil erosion prevention. NRCS officials had cited the Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act of 1997 as the authority for funding URP, however, Congress did not appropriate funds for activities to carry out this act during fiscal years 1994 through 1999. General Counsel also stated that the Forest Service had broader authority to fund URP projects under the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act but such authority was limited to assistance involving trees, forest cover, shrubs, and associated natural resources.
We noted a number of specific problems. Cities or areas were not selected to participate in URP on a competitive basis. Criteria used to select cities or areas included, but were not limited to, political support, strength of congressional delegation, diversity of population, and potential for Federal agency funding from existing programs.
Also, URP recipients did not always use funds to meet the purposes of this applicable statutes from which the appropriated funds were obtained. Of 156 URP awards reviewed totaling $4.4 million dollars in four cities or areas, we found that 131 awards for $3.4 million or 78 percent of that amount did not meet the purposes of one or more Forest Service and/or NRCS statutes, that is, soil erosion, tree planting, from which the awards were funded. Therefore, these awards should not have been made. For example, in one case, we had that up on the charts, in one case in Los Angeles, $4,500 provided by NRCS was used to pay artists to paint wall murals.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition, the program did not include controls that insure award funds were used in accordance with applicable Federal regulations. Members of local steering committees frequently had little or no prior experience in managing Federal programs. As a result USDA and OMB grant regulations were not adhered to and recipients claims unallowable rates for personnel and equipment. Thus, over $474,000 of these claims is subject to recovery.
We recommended all URP grants be reviewed to determine their legal authority and fulfillment of purposes under the applicable statutes and that a strategy be developed to resolve all issues. We also recommended that the Department establish and public applicable requirements and procedures for the URP Program in the Federal Register and establish control procedures at the Under Secretary level to insure that all program initiatives be forwarded to the Office of General Counsel for review prior to implementation.
In response to our recommendations the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment requested a clarifying opinion from the General Counsel regarding this in July 1999 and its opinion in 1999 in which it determined there was no authorizing legislation for URP. General Counsel's clarification stated that the Secretary has brought authority to undertake soil and water conservation measures relating to soil erosion, however, the agency must insure that any proposed URP activity falls within the scope of that authority. Based on the OGC clarification the Under Secretary believes that the Forest Service and NRCS have sufficient legal authority to undertake the activities conducted under URP.
However, the General Counsel's clarification made it clear that URP projects funded by NRCS through the Soil and Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act must relate to soil erosion prevention. Projects such as painting wall murals, transportation, and bringing civil suits against owners of derelict properties to force demolition or rehabilitation of structures have no linkage to such programs, and therefore, funds from appropriated for such programs must not be used to fund these activities.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We have been unable to reach agreement with the Under Secretary and the Chiefs of NRCS and the Forest Service on any actions needed to resolve the issues addressed in our report. We have provided detailed information to the Under Secretary describing specific actions needed to resolve each of our recommendations. To date we have not received communication from the Under Secretary that such actions have or will be taken.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I will be happy to answer any questions you or other members of the committee may have.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. Viadero. Mr. Lyons, welcome.
STATEMENT OF JAMES R. LYONS, UNDER SECRETARY, NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Mr. LYONS. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the subcommittee today to discuss the Urban Resources Partnership. I am accompanied by Chief Pearlie Reed of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as well as Joan Comanor, Director for Resource Conservation and Community Development Division, and Lloyd Wright, now retired but a key member of the NRCS leadership, as well as Phil Janik, Robin Thompson, and Larry Payne, who are respectively the Chief Operating Officer of the Forest Service, Associate Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry, and the Director of Cooperative Forestry. Mr. Reed and Mr. Janik will be helping me in addressing questions, Mr. Goodlatte, so at a certain point in time I hope they will be able to join me at the table if that is possible.
At the beginning of my tenure at USDA I initiated the Urban Resources Partnership to serve the conservation needs of disadvantaged and minorities communities in urban settings. URP is one of the few initiatives to directly address inner-city natural resource issues. With a modest investment of $4 million, $2 million of which comes from the Forest Service, $2 million from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, URP provides valuable technical and financial assistance to under-served communities. As such it is one way to address concerns associated with environmental justice, an important priority, I am sure, for all of us.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Both the Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service initiated urban programs in the past long before I took office. The Urban Resources Partnership simply continued these efforts with added emphasis on serving minority communities and neighborhoods in and around major metropolitan areas.
And if I could, Mr. Chairman, I would like to submit for the record a brief history of NRCS's role in addressing urban issues which was prepared by Mr. Wright.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection. So ordered.
Mr. LYONS. Thank you.
The Urban Resources Partnership sought to improve the efficiency of Federal agency efforts to provide conservation technical assistance and financial support to urban communities. A number of agencies in the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and elsewhere were providing such assistance but often with limited coordination and collaboration. Given the severe limits on funding and personnel working in the Urban Forestry and Conservation, need existed to maximize the efficiency of these limited efforts. The innovative approach that we implemented through URP was recognized, in fact, by the Innovations in American Government competition, which was sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, in fact was a semi-finalist in the 1997 competition.
In 1994 limited funding was provided to four pilot cities, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and Seattle, to explore a new delivery system for conservation assistance in these urban settings. The rationale for selecting the cities for this initial effort was simple. Each provided geographic distribution. There existed strong political support of urban forestry and conservation activities in each as illustrated by ongoing projects and programs in those cities. Each city has strong local support for the initiative and provided different opportunities to explore how to improve the delivery of conservation and forestry service in urban environments.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC For the first 4 years URP all funds were invested in on the ground projects to the maximum extent practical. Overhead was provided by funds from other agencies or by donations from local governments and conservation partners. For example, local coordinators might secure office space from a mayor's office, phone and clerical support, and from another entity in city government, and salary and benefits from another agency. That is, every dime that was committed to URP went into on the ground projects, much like the Block Grant Programs that we have discussed in this committee before.
The Urban Resources Partnership improved its delivery of financial and technical assistance by working with local governments, State agencies, community and neighborhood groups, and non-profit partners to identify opportunities for investing in projects. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Forest Service made better decisions regarding the projects to support because of the locally-led dialog that occurred. Project funds were matched with local resources, thus multiplying the benefits of limited Federal investments. In addition, technical assistance and support to projects were provided by each of the agencies in a one-stop shopping manner, thus a community could make a request for tree planting advice from the Forest Service, for soil conservation assistance from NRCS, and at the same time obtain landscape design work from the Park Service, all in a simple one-stop approach.
URP pilots were so successful that in 1995 a number of cities made unsolicited requests to be designature URP cities. The partnership expanded to include Denver, East St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. Then in 1997 with continuing interest among other urban areas an application process was established, and through that process, through the guidance of a national steering committee, San Francisco, Las Vegas, south Florida, Buffalo, and Boston were added to the URP partnership under this steering committee's guidance.
It is important to note that while the number of URP cities expanded the funds allocated to the initiative did not throughout its tenure. That is, $4 million was provided annually, $2 million from NRCS, $2 million from the Forest Service, and then split up among the cities. So as cities were added each city got a smaller and smaller allocation. We did not increase the overall allocation.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Federal agencies provide overall guidance to URP grant recipients and technical and financial assistance to the extent authorized. The Forest Service authority to provide this assistance derives from the Urban and Community Forestry Assistance Section of the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act. The Natural Resource Conservation Service authority is based on the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act.
Initial guidance was provided to the first four pilot Urban Partnership cities under direction from the Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. And I would like to submit if I could, Mr. Chairman, that initial guidance which was distributed in March 1995.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection that will be made a part of the record.
Mr. LYONS. Thank you, sir.
In 1996 a summary report highlighted Urban Resources Partnership projects, goals, and objectives in participating cities. Urban Resources Partnership coordinators, Federal agencies, and local partners began meeting annually in 1995 to address administrative issues and to share information. The Urban Resources Partnership coordinators also continue to participate in monthly conference calls.
The Forest Service and NRCS initiated a management review of the URP in 1998 to insure that each of the cities was in full compliance with all Federal rules and procedures. The Forest Service and NRCS management directed that their State Conservationists and Regional Foresters respectively review each of the cities, projects, and complete a number of tasks to insure the fiscal accountability of the Urban Resources Partnership included insuring that all ongoing URP project funds were used in line with existing legislative authorities, developing and improving work plans for all ongoing projects to insure that all new projects behave an approved work plan before a grant or agreement was signed, and establish and maintain official project files in the regional or State offices of the agency with a lead in overseeing each city.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC State conservationists and regional Foresters reported that each of the above tasks was completed, bringing the original eight cities into compliance with agency regulations and authorities. NRCS and the Forest Service insured that the five cities added in 1997 designed their efforts in full compliance with agency regulations and authorities.
More recently, a National Guidance Document was prepared to update and expand the original guidance provided in 1994. The Inspector General's office reviewed the guidance before it was finalized, and an Accomplishments Report was also recently completed. And I would like to include both the Guidance Document and the Accomplishments Report for the record if I could.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection.
Mr. LYONS. Now, the OIG as Roger said completed an audit of URP in 1999, and the audit identified four main issues. And if I could, I would just like to briefly address each of the issues raised by the IG.
First, the IG questioned administrative procedures and implementation of URP. As stated earlier USDA initiated a management review of the URP cities prior to the IG's report. The review brought each of the cities into compliance with agency rules and regulations. The Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service took additional corrective actions to address the recommendations from the IG's audit, and these are highlighted here.
First, the agencies worked with field offices to develop a National Guidance Document to insure that no administrative lapses occurred in the future. Both the Office of General Counsel and the Inspector General's office reviewed the National Guidance Document before it was distributed to field offices. This document updated the 1994 Guidance which I previously referenced.
Project reviews are conducted annually in each URP city by the Forest Service regional Urban and Community Forestry coordinator and regional grant administrator.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC All Forest Service regional coordinators and Natural Resources Conservation Service local Urban Resources Partnership coordinators and many Federal steering committee members received training in managing Federal financial assistance grants at the URP national meeting in January 2000.
And finally the Forest Service developed updated program direction for the Urban and Community Forestry Program and a list of appropriate Urban and Community Forestry Program activities and criteria for project selection.
Now, the IG in addition
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Lyons, if I might interrupt, when was that action taken?
Mr. LYONS. The updated program direction?
Mr. GOODLATTE. Yes.
Mr. LYONS. Let me check for a second. July 1999, Mr. Chairman. Now, the IG's questioned and repeated here today the legal authority of the NRCS to work in urban areas. I don't think there is any question about the Forest Service's legal authority. We continue to believe that the legal authority for URP is well documented. The Office of General Counsel, after a comprehensive review of both the language in the Conservation Operations appropriations and the legislative history of the appropriations acts, ''confirms the Secretary's broad authority under the 1935 Act to undertake soil and water conservation measures relating to soil erosion to achieve the policies and purposes of the 1935 Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act.'' And if I could, Mr. Chairman, I would like to submit the OGC's legal opinion for the record as well.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection.
Mr. LYONS. Thank you, sir. In 1994, prior to the implementation of the URP, a number of offices, including the Office of General Counsel, the Strategic Planning and Budget Analysis Office, Accounting and Grants, Fiscal Operations and Administrative Services, reviewed the operating procedures for the URP initiative. The memo highlighted here dated April 5, 1994, reflected the review and consultation of these officials in response to a request from Lloyd Wright, the Natural Resources Conservation Service official who provided initial oversight and guidance in developing the Urban Resources Partnership. And again, Mr. Chairman, I would like to submit this memo for the record if I may.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Urban Resources Partnership funding, authorities, and activities have been detailed for the Congress on several occasions. In December, 1997, USDA provided a report to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, detailing activities of the Partnership, including inner-city beautification and creation of outdoor learning centers. In fact, in that same year Secretary Glickman wrote a letter to Chairman Joe Skeen of the subcommittee in which he stated Conservation Operations Account is used to finance partially NRCS participation in the Urban Resources Partnership. The initiative being carried out is being carried out consistent with existing authorities of the Conservation Operations Account and other NRCS programs. They are considered an integral part of the agency's strategic plan that addresses the need for conservation on all private lands.
Then in January 1988, Mr. Skeen responded to the Secretary's letter, and in fact, indicated that the committee had no objection to the allocation of funds for these activities.
Then in fiscal year 1999, if I could, I would like to submit these letters for the record, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection.
Mr. LYONS. In addition in fiscal year 1999 the report of the House Committee on Appropriations stated
The committee recognizes the participation of the NRCS in the Urban Resources Partnership. The Urban Resources Partnership is a multi-agency effort to assist urban and suburban communities to improve management and conservation of their natural resources. It has served as a catalyst to encourage local communities to participate in conservation activities. The committee expects that NRCS will continue their participation in URP.
I would like to submit that report language for the record as well, Mr. Chairman, if I may.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The IG also recommended that the Forest Service and NRCS seek recovery of funds based on their concerns for granting of funds without proper legal authority. Of course, the USDA continues to disagree with the issue of legal authority. However, the Chiefs in a memo sent to me to help prepare for response to Mr. Viadero's audit, noted the following. This is a memo dated February 16, 1999. In this memo the Chiefs estimated that
it would require a minimum of 18 months and a number of staff to complete the recommended review of all projects completed between fiscal year 1994 and fiscal year 1998. This would severely reduce the availability of key staff needed to provide appropriate administrative oversight to the ongoing work of the agencies and insuring current projects are consistent with appropriate procedures and guidelines. Further, it is not in the public interest to attempt recovery of funds from grass-roots organizations that completed project activities accepted by the local URP steering committee.
Finally, and I would submit that memo for the record as well, Mr. Chairman, if I may.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection.
Mr. LYONS. Thank you, sir. Finally, Mr. Viadero suggested in his audit that rules be published to guide implementation of URP. The Urban Resources Partnership is not a new program but simply a continuation of ongoing urban forestry and conversation activities. I want to point out that many agency initiatives and programs function without the issuance of rules and regulations. For example, the Urban and Community Forestry Program has functioned for 10 years with national guidance, excuse me, but no formal rules. The American the Beautiful initiative actually developed by the Bush administration was not subject to rulemaking procedures. Finally, many of the programs that are critical to our national strategy to reduce the threat of wildfires for which we are seeking additional funds today, and in fact, working with members of the Congress, are not being implemented through formal rulemaking. Examples include the Fire Wise Program, the State Fire Assistance Program, the Volunteer Fire Assistance Program, and the Forest Health Management and Economic Action Programs.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now, despite the fact that the Department believes that no formal rules are necessary to be responsive to the IG's concerns, an interim rule governing the Urban and Community Forestry Program and URP will be published next week. And in fact, that document was sent to the Federal Register yesterday, Mr. Chairman, and I would submit that for the record as well.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection.
Mr. LYONS. Now, the Urban Resources Partnership successfully works with inner-city residents to improve their lives and surroundings.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Lyons, let me interrupt.
These are very serious allegations, and I have given you a great deal of latitude in the amount of time to make your response. And I think you have done that. If you could summarize, I think it would be helpful to the subcommittee.
Mr. LYONS. I will, Mr. Chairman, and my apologizes for going on. We believe that URP is critically important if we are to meet the challenges facing the stewardship of our natural resources in the future and insure that all Americans realize the benefits of good conservation practices. URP projects reduce soil erosion, restore wetlands, plant trees, revegitate vacant lots, create open space, improve the quality of life for urban residents while communicating an important message about land stewardship and conservation.
I would like to offer just briefly two examples of successful URP projects. The first example comes from New York City. Certainly not the heartland of America but the place where most Americans or the most densely populated city in the United States. The project site here was a rock garden in the South Bronx. Unfortunately, when the projects were built in that part of the South Bronx, the developers elected to use that site as a dumping ground. So literally hundreds of tons of trash and debris were poured on that site. Through the vision of local community leadership and their guidance and through a C grant from Urban Resources Partnership of $200,000 the community groups were able to leverage $2 million in additional support, including haulage fees from the city and support from other entities to restore this site to an urban garden, to revegitate this site, to address conservation concerns, and certainly to promote recreational use, quality of life, and environmental education.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC A second example I would offer, Mr. Chairman, is from San Francisco. In San Francisco the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners has worked to demonstrate the linkage between environmental and economic development programs, and in fact, through a small C grant provide to SLUG early in URP's tenure, we worked with SLUG to convert this site to a farm in downtown San Francisco. What is important to note is through the work of SLUG it has become one of the largest welfared work employers in the Bay Area working with at-risk youth to train them in gardening techniques, and in fact, provide them certification as organic gardeners. In fact, they have taken their initiative a step further. They have actually developed an enterprise where they sell the produce and products that come from this site. I don't have an example of Urban Herbals, which is their product name from San Francisco, but I have an example from a similar initiative in Atlanta called Hot Urban Success. This is bottled vinegar.
So you can see through the small grant provided through URP not only have conservation benefits been realized but the participants have learned a little bit about free enterprise and investing in private business, and we have encouraged that.
Let me close, Mr. Chairman, but simply saying that the Urban Resources Partnership improves the delivery of Federal services through the use of existing authorities and programs. In 13 cities despite some lapses in administration and the need for correcting certain activities URP has been largely a success. URP recognizes these cities' vital role in enhancing and preserving not just open space and natural resources in neighborhoods and communities but also in protecting natural resources in promoting conservation and a land ethic and connecting people in these communities back to the land. At a very basic level I would submit, Mr. Chairman, that funding for future agricultural programs depends on the success of initiatives like URP because as the Nation becomes more urbanized we must cultivate new connections to the land to agriculture, forestry, and conservation.
The House of Representatives, Mr. Chairman, as you know is largely an urban body. If we do not develop connections to those urban members and urban residents come to understand the important work that agriculture, forestry, and conservation do, then the future, the difficulty in securing funds for future farm bills and future agriculture activities I think will be much, much more difficult.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As Chairman de la Garza taught me when I worked for him as he chaired the House Agriculture Committee that linkage to urban residence is critical. When we worked on the 1990 farm bill Kika went to the floor and made an impassioned speech to the urban members and made a very simple point. He said, without agriculture there will be no pickups. Without pickups, there will be no Detroit, and in the chairman's simple way I think he communicated the message of trying to built connections between urban residence and agriculture to the benefit not only of those residents but for the Nation as a whole.
I believe, Mr. Chairman, that URP plays a very important role in fulfilling this objection. And thank you for the opportunity to speak today and for the opportunity to go on.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. Lyons. I must say the objective is a good one but the means by which you attempt to achieve it is strained by some of the projects that have been funded and some of the questionable justifications for making those grants.
Mr. Viadero, in your report you cited 209 grants made without proper legislative authority. Can you tell us how you made that determination?
Mr. VIADERO. Yes, sir. We compared each grant to the legislative authority. If any portion of the grant objectives was related to an authorized expense, we didn't take exception to the grant. Thus, if a grant had several components and one component was authorized, we accepted that grant as meeting the legislative intent.
However, Mr. Chairman, if I can, would you put all those back up?
And I would call upon the commonsense and initial response of all the members present. That is a privately-owned garage, and my simple question is since I am from that neighborhood that in the South Bronx originally that was rehabilitated, and I applaud that effort, I am saying where is the conservation? I mean, I am trying to take a simple-man approach here, and I just ask the members does anybody see a conservation message on the side of that privately-owned garage or on the wall?
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, let me ask Mr. Lyons this. If our objective here is to connect Members of Congress and people living in urban areas, Members of Congress who represent urban areas with the idea that agricultural programs benefit all of us, how are we achieving that mission when we fund projects like this which simply helps to perpetuate a bad impression that the Department of Agriculture has that it wastes money in rural areas on projects sometimes. Now we are bringing it to urban areas, and this is an advertisement that seems to me for mismanagement. Paint it on a wall. How do you respond to that?
Mr. LYONS. Well, let me respond first by saying, Mr. Chairman, that I acknowledge that, and I am certain that mistakes were made in the grant making in the projects over the duration of the initiative. I would not deny that. I personally am not familiar with all the activities that occurred in each of the projects. That is not my role.
Mr. GOODLATTE. But I would test Mr. Viadero's statement that after going through every one of the projects and taking out any project that had any semblance of a soil conservation aspect he still found 209 projects, this being one example or maybe two, of funding of projects that costs cumulatively millions of dollars that did not go for the worthwhile purpose that you very clearly articulated a minute ago.
Mr. LYONS. I do, Mr. Chairman, for two reasons. First of all, Mr. Viadero continues to argue that there is no legislative authority for the work that NRCS does in urban environments. If you start with that premise, then it is going to be very difficult to find projects that are authorized.
I would suggest as well that it is essential that you look at the projects in their entirety, and while I would agree with Roger totally that a mural on a private garage is an inappropriate expenditure of funds, there are other instances where an effort to try and communicate messages of conservation might use a different approach, use art, use some other communication means to communicate what has been learned through the conservation project that has been initiated.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think you have to look at each project in its entirety and not simply pull out one component part and say that is not soil conservation.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Lyons, can you interpret for us the message that that art there conveys to that community about the importance of conservation?
Mr. LYONS. Well, Mr. Chairman, I don't reside in south LA and soand I am not familiar with the project in its entirety so I am not in a position to offer that interpretation. But I would tell you that from working with urban communities, with disadvantaged communities I have learned a lot about the different ways in which they communicate messages about what they are seeking to achieve. So I am not going to even attempt an interpretation of that element, and I am not going to make the argument.
Mr. GOODLATTE. But you would try to defend this as
Mr. LYONS. No, I am not going to try and make the argument that that is a defensible expenditure. I am just simply suggesting that that may be one component in a larger project that had a great deal of value.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you. My time has expired. The gentlewoman for North Carolina, and if you would like to take extra time to make an opening statement, we would certainly recognize that at this time, as well.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Well, thank you for your offer. I think I will submit my statement for the record and take my time with the question.
As one who supports this program and am an advocate and will not try to make a case for that being conservation but I think, Mr. Chairman, you pushed me to I probably could make a case for it because I don't know where it was before. But I don't think that is the issue. I think the issue is have we taken due diligence to protect the procedure for allocating funds in partnership with larger programs that on the surface as he said, average guy looking at this wouldn't see it, not to say he is average and I am not but I could see it. But I think our oversight responsibility is if indeed we have taken due diligence to insure that as we participate in a larger project where those not having the discerning eye, you can point to the requirement we have made of a partnership or engagement to protect the integrity of the purpose of the program.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think it is a great idea to have the program in urban areas. I am on record having supported it, will continue to do that but that is not to say that there aren't procedures to be followed. That is not to say that we aren't derelict in our overall responsibility where we fail to do those things because we don't protect the integrity of it.
Now, one of the questions that the ORC officer said was that he has not heard from you. He presented this report. Did I misunderstand that? Did you say that, Mr. Viadero, that you made this report?
Mr. VIADERO. I will be happy to give you a lineage Mrs. Clayton.
Mrs. CLAYTON. When was this submitted? I have November, 1999. Is that correct?
Mr. VIADERO. We issued that report on November, 1999. We requested a response not later than December 31 1999. The response we received that was due December, we received on February 3. On March 20 we issued for lack of a better term a memo back to the Under Secretary for lack of sufficiency in a response to the recommendations. We set a due date on that as a normal course of March 31. We did not receive that response until August 2. That is after, four months after the due date. We then sent back on August 24 if you will another notice for lack of sufficiency to the recommendations. That is all we wanted, our recommendations answered, and this morning at 7:49 this morning this was walked into my office, a response back to Mr. Ebbitt, and I would also ask the panel if they would let me bring Mr. Ebbitt up a little rather than go back and forth over my shoulder asking questions because he is probably in a better position since he has lived with this one. I received this this morning, and we did a review of it, and the first, the only difference in this review, this submission was the memo that was dated April 5, 1994, which NRCS put up there. We had no notice of that memo before. This is like finding the missing 18 minutes of tape. This has been an outstanding issue for more than a year since we began our field work. We haven't kept this in the closet. We haven't tried to hide this from anybody. Every time we found a deficiency we ran it by NRCS or the Forest Service. All of those 209 issues that we found, Mrs. Clayton. So I am at just a bit of a quandary here, and the first time I heard of the rules and whatever being published next week, there is no mention of it in the response that I received this morning was at this table. So I am sort of at a loss. All I want in my job is the answers to the recommendations, and we dance around them basically but we don't answer. That is all we need is an answer in so far as recommending and seemingly that we recommend collection, that is my job to say these are the monies we found that should be collected. It is up to this group and the Department to determine, this group being the Congress, and the Department to determine the collectibility of that. I just have to report it. Otherwise I would be negligent.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. Mr. Lyons, do you want to respond to that?
Mr. LYONS. Gladly, Congresswoman. I must admit I am perplexed, too, because we have provided memorandum, initiated actions, conducted oversight reviews, and had a continuing dialog with the IG on these issues. In fact, let me just give those to Roger so he has a change to read them, and I will submit some for the record.
Mr. LYONS. We have as a result of our own management review prior to the IG investigation asked for a field review of all the activities associated with URP, and in fact, got a response from each of the line officers and those responsible, which I indicated in my testimony. We began working with the IG on coordinating NRCS management reviews during that time so actually before the IG conducted its investigation. We did respond to the IG's report of November, 1999, and February 3, 2000. We have had subsequent dialog with the IG in working to develop a national guidance document. And then on August 2 I asked for a meeting with Mr. Ebbitt. We had a long discussion about how we could continue to work together to address any administrative concerns that remained. Then to my surprise on August 24 we got a 6-page letter which talked nothing about working together but simply indicated they hadn't received additional responses.
So, yes, in fact, yesterday we completed another response to the IG. I would characterize our efforts as an attempt to be responsive, to go back and address the questions raise, and as I indicated in my testimony to be compliant and show our interest in being responsive, to go the extra yard in actually publishing a rule for implementation of URP and making available the National Guidance to departmental fishes for its implementation so that anyone who has an interest can obtain those.
So obviously there is a difference of opinion about a working relationship here but I want to assure you that we areI agree with you, Mrs. Clayton. It is critically important that the integrity of URP and our administrative oversight is sound. And I have commitments from the chiefs of both the agencies responsible for its implementation that, in fact, all grants since 1998 and all subsequent grants will be consistent with the National Guidance in all rules and regulations that apply.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. The response time to the inquiry from IG does not seem reasonable let me just say from my standpoint but it is not unusual for there to be a difference of opinion. OIG calls it like he says it, and if indeed he ishe may be in error. That is a judgment call but I think indeed to respond is a different thing from sayinghe may require certain answers, and they may not be the answers to his satisfaction. And you have to give it from your own perspective. That is a part of the give and take of the dialog but a non-response is unacceptable as being evidence of working together. I mean, a non-response is just that, a non-response. A difference of opinion is to be respected. A difference of opinion but it seems to me that the ability to make the case is not made by a non-response. You make the case by giving the evidence. This is a good program. We want to save the program. We want to make sure there isyou know that I am aware that the office ofI keep getting this mixed up with the audit but the OIG is not the same thing as the GAO and occasionally we need to combine those two to see indeed how those work out.
You have a fiscal internal office which will also be part of your evidence to determine if indeed those monies have been spent accordingly. All of these instruments and structures are designed to give credibility and independence review of your program. So it is incumbent upon the Department to make sure those independent sources are getting your perspective, and if you are not making that perspective, who else is going to makewho else is going to tell your story? Now, I am aware that you are taking the blunt for a lot of those programs but you are in that seat. So you are required to make sure that the story that should be told, that you are making that abundantly clear.
I am not suggesting that everything in here is right but I am suggesting that the lack of communication is evidence that you don't care about the program, giving evidence of the acquisition that you are above being accountable. And I don't think that is true. So I am just calling into action the interpretation you allowed to happen by the conduct in which the Department has acted.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LYONS. If I could just make one comment?
Mrs. CLAYTON. Sure.
Mr. LYONS. Mrs. Clayton. I don't want the record to show that we were not responsive. To the contrary. I think we have been and including working with the IG on our initial management review and in working on the National Guidance document. So Roger may point to two pieces of paper at a certain point in time but there was an ongoing dialog with Mr. Ebbitt. Jim and I have worked on a lot of issues together, and we tried to work through these issues as well. I think we have a difference of opinion on how inadequately in the IG's view we have responded to the issues and recommendations raised, and we feel we have addressed many of them. And as I indicated in my letter to Roger most recently we will continue to work to address others to make sure that we maintain appropriate standards and meet the accountability measures that we owe to the American taxpayer. But we arewe have worked, we continue to work. I am not ignoring Roger's concerns at all. We take anything that the IG raises as very serious and have worked at for the last 2 years. In fact, I have laid out here, I won't go through the details, a chronology of the administrative actions that we have taken over time to attempt to be responsive to the concerns that have been raised.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Did you submit that for the record?
Mr. LYONS. I couldn't, Mrs. Clayton, I certainly will do that.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mrs. Clayton. The gentleman from Kansas, Mr. Moran.
Mr. MORAN. Mr. Chairman, thank you. I appreciate you holding this hearing. In March I, having read a Scripps Howard News Service story about this and questioned by my constituents, asked for this subcommittee to take a look at this program and these issues. And I know you tried to hold a hearing earlier this year, and we were unsuccessful, and I appreciate that we now have that opportunity today.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I am often asked by my constituents when these kinds of issues arise, how do you let this happen? Did you authorize this? And so this topic, it alwaysthis topic is of interest to me, and I always kind of shake my head and wonder how these things happen. And it is worse I guess whenever we authorize them. Then I have no defense. When we don't authorize them, it isat least there is a defense that somebody else but it seems incumbent upon Congress to make certain that what we authorize is conducted in an appropriate manner, and what we don't authorize isn't conducted at all.
And I would ask both the witnesses, what I have been doing this morning is looking through the testimony, Mr. Lyons in particular, I am trying to find where the Office of the General Counsel has issued its opinion granting its stamp of approval upon these activities. And the closest I can come I guess and maybe there is other documentation is your memorandum dated February 3, 2000, to Mr. Viadero. It is a response to his inquiry, and on the second page of that you indicate the Office of General Counsel states, and I willI don't intend to paraphrase but I will pick sentences out here that I amwant to highlight.
While the Secretary's authority is broad, the agency must insure that any activity proposed for funding under URP falls within the scope of that authority. That seems rather straightforward and commonsense. We were not asked and did not do a detailed analysis of each project to determine if the project was authorized. At times our opinion may have appeared to unequivocally state that there is no authority to provide funding under the 35 Act or a certain project. That is because based upon the descriptions provided to us we did not see a nexus between the project and soil erosion prevention. However, the agency is in the best position to determine initially whether there is a nexus, and our statements in our July memorandum should not be taken as conclusive as to the agency's authority to fund a particular project.
Is that as unequivocable as the Office of General Counsel gets in authorizing these projects?
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LYONS. All I can say is that is the OGC's opinion upon reviewing its initial opinion and reviewing the authorities that apply here.
Mr. MORAN. Well, if I was a client, I would not be satisfied with my lawyer's opinion that the best they can do is to say that whether or not they authorized the best person to determine whether there was a nexus between soil conservation or soil erosion is my client. I would, as a lawyer would want to look at those projects, examine the facts, and issue an opinion as to whether or not these specific projects fall under the authorization of the authority of the 1935 Act.
So this is thisthe part of what I read here is what you at the Department hold out as evidence that there is legal authority for these activities?
Mr. LYONS. Well, let me first of all, Congressman, I can give you the OGC opinion if you don't have the full opinion. I would be glad to provide that to you. I think that is certainly one basis. The other is the appropriations language that explicitly stated the Agriculture Appropriation Subcommittee's view and intent that the Department continue to be a participant in URP. I think that amplified the message, and I would, you know, I would point out that the judgments that need to be made with regard to applicability to existing authorities are judgments that need to be made by the agency representatives as they review projects and make decisions with regard to fund allocation. And that is really where the decision making responsibility resides.
Mr. MORAN. My kind of concluding suggestion is that I find little comfort if I was you or if I was the client that this was as clear as my lawyer could tell me I had the authority to do what I wanted to do. I certainly would have second thoughts.
Mr. Viadero, is there something else out there that the Office of General Counsel has made this issue more clear or less clear than what I am aware or what I have indicated here?
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. VIADERO. No, Congressman, and again, that was our point, too, the nexus. That is all we are looking for, is some connection between what we see and what we found and what we paid for. Also, Mr. Lyons has mentioned we have an investigation. This is an audit. Understand what the Office of Inspector General does. We are about half auditors and half criminal investigators, regular special agents.
This was a compliance review ostensibly, a program review, and let me put this in terms that everyone understands. When we go into to a compliance review we ask two questions, are there controls in place, yes or no, and are they working, yes or no. It is that simple. And we found 209 cases here where they weren't working in our opinion.
So that is the audit. This is an audit report you have. However, we have presently a rather large criminal investigation ongoing involving some of the participants in these funds, who received these funds related directly back to these funds. And due to certain criminal procedure, which I am sure you are all familiar with, we are prohibited from mentioning anything about the active cases. But that is where we stand so, yes, we do have criminal work open on this.
Mr. MORAN. Well, I appreciate both of your answers. I find little comfort in what the Office of General Counsel has said. It seems to me they have either partially or impartially avoided answering the question.
Mr. Chairman, I have other questions but I hope thatand I hope to have the opportunity to ask those at a second round of questioning.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I expect you will. The gentleman from Arkansas, Mr. Berry.
Mr. BERRY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First of all, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this hearing and then also publicly state for the record the great job that Roger Viadero has done as the Inspector General for the Department of Agriculture and the millions of dollars that he has saved the taxpayers of this country in a number of different programs, and Mr. Viadero, we thank you very much for everything you have done for the United States.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. VIADERO. Thank you, Congressman.
Mr. BERRY. I will say, as I have listened to this, we receive calls almost every day in our office from a constituent who is dealing with the Department of Agriculture. Usually it is FSA but it can be other offices where they have made an honest mistake. Generally when these farmers make these mistakes, they take it right out of their pocket. They hold up their payments, they put a lien on their property, and go to all manner of mechanisms to collect this money or do whatever. They don't get the opportunity in many cases to explain why they didn't follow the guidelines precisely or get the opportunity that Mr. Lyons has had here today to explain why there were some mistakes made and why maybe the guidelines weren't followed or that.
So it gives me a lot of concern that our farmers get treated pretty heavy-handedly out there, and yet an Under Secretary of Agriculture has not been billed for $3.4 million for the mistake that he made. So I think that as we go through this it would be good to keep in mind that everyone is due the opportunity to explain and maybe a little bit of leeway when a mistake is made. And I would hope that this would be passed down through the Department, through any of the agencies and their local operators that have the opportunity to be rough on folks that maybe sometimes a little bit of commonsense and sensitivity would be helpful. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. Berry. Mr. Phelps, the gentleman from Illinois.
Mr. PHELPS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would also like to thank you for holding this hearing, valuable for all of us. Mr. Viadero, are you or can you say if there were other agencies, Federal agencies that dovetailed or overlapped funding for some of these programs that accessed this particular funding program?
Mr. VIADERO. Mr. Phelps, if I could, and Mr. Chairman, could I ask Mr. Ebbitt to attend to answering this question with me if I can? Mr. Ebbitt is the Assistant Inspector General for Audit.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. That would be fine.
Mr. VIADERO. Thank you, sir.
Mr. EBBITT. The short answer to your question, Congressman, is yes, in some instances there are small amounts of funding from other Federal agencies associated with these grants.
Mr. PHELPS. So that means there had to be some sort of coordination, whether it be National Endowment of the Arts or whatever. I am thinking the murals and things like that. Would thereso a particular grant was enhanced and communicated somehow by a local entity to all these agencies, and how does that get done?
Mr. EBBITT. Well, there are other Federal granting agencies, For example, EPA had some money involved, we have some money from HUD, we have some local funding at the State level, also at the city level involved. To be honest with you I am not positive of how that was coordinated, how arranged or negotiated those grants from these other parties. Presumably the onsite ERB coordinator in each location in working with the officials of NRCS and the Forest Service would negotiate and come to those decisions.
Mr. PHELPS. Because I am wondering, you know, whatever local entity generated the application for a grant for one particular agency usually indicates this is a percentage part of our total goal. And so that suggests that there would be some coordination between the agencies, and if so, do we have other agencies that the Inspector General has questioned and had responses?
Mr. EBBITT. We have not, Congressman, we were concentrating on grants granted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We didn't stray into grant-making authorities at other Federal agencies or offices. At the Local level as far as looking at how money was spent we did look and in our report we talk about some, forget about whether or not the grant should have been made in the first place but actually at the field location what were they spending the money on, did it seem like they were appropriate purposes for which the grant was made, and we have some comments in our report about that.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. PHELPS. Who would make the decision on whether that was appropriate? And maybe this has already been touched on before I came in the room but forgive me. Is it a panel, a council, or a person that makes that judgment?
Mr. EBBITT. Congressman, I am not sure, and I would suggest perhaps Mr. Lyons might be able to answer that.
Mr. LYONS. If I could, Congressman, perhaps I can explain the grant-making process. The URP was guided by local steering committees. These were inner-agency, Federal agency partners. They would put out a request for proposals and then review projects in accordance with authorities and the rules that applied for the uses of the monies that would be provided. But one of the, I think one of the things that was focused on as I understand it in developing projects and improving grant applications was the extent to which those projects leveraged other resources, other Federal resources, State resources, community resources so that the benefits of the small USDA investment would be multiplied and improve the likelihood of the projects' particular success. That was done at the Local level through a formal review and grant application and award process guided by the local steering committee.
Mr. PHELPS. Thank you very much.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. Phelps. We will do another round of questions. Mr. Lyons, in 16 United States Code Section 1002, which I assume you rely upon for these programs since it is the authorizing language, it says, ''Each project must contain benefits directly related to agriculture including rural communities that account for at least 20 percent of the total benefits of the project,'' that under the same statute a local organization is defined as one having authority under State law to carry out works of improvement, that for land treatment measures Federal assistance cannot exceed the assistance for similar practices in other works of improvement. Are you familiar with that?
Mr. LYONS. Not that particular cite, Mr. Chairman.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, that is the cite on which all of these projects that you refer to here must be based onaccording to law. So taking one of the examples that you gave us I think we are talking about the same thing, which is I would have to say a seemingly worthwhile project but one for which I question whether you have legislative authority. On what basis did you make the $98,000 grant for the Urban Gardening Project that you showed us a picture of a moment ago?
Mr. LYONS. I can't speak to that, Mr. Chairman. I would have to ask the agency officials.
Mr. GOODLATTE. You spoke to how wonderful the project was, and I must say that the project looked to be something that is quite desirable but in point of fact I spend a lot of my time here in this Congress dealing with the Appropriations Committee of the Congress trying to get their specific appropriation to undertake projects that my constituents think are very worthwhile. And I don't always succeed in getting that because of the limited resources we have. But somehow you are able to fund this project, and I think if you are able to do it and boast about, you ought to be able to tell us how you did it and the basis you had for it.
Mr. LYONS. Well, I reiterate, Mr. Chairman, the decisions with regard to the projects and what is approved are made at a local level.
Mr. GOODLATTE. How could you do that?
Mr. LYONS. I have given you an overview of the projects as I see its values, and I think that is largely consistent with the conservation authorities that I
Mr. GOODLATTE. What I am asking you to do is to plug that $98,000 figure into the statutory language that I just read to you. I don't see how you fit it in there.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LYONS. I am not an attorney, Mr. Chairman, so I don't know that I can adequately do that.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Was the group receiving the funds authorized under California law to carry out works of improvement?
Mr. LYONS. Again, I can't speak to that particular project, Mr. Chairman. We could get you follow-up information if that would help.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Is anybody in the vast array of folks you have behind you able to answer that?
Mr. LYONS. I think we would have to get the people who were responsible for that grant and its review probably to help address that question. Of course, that is one of the accountability issues we want to make sure we are implementing.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, let me broaden the issue out then. If we can't get to that specific one, and I would like you to submit to us the authority that you have because I think that is what the crux of what Mr. Viadero is complaining about. He has asked you to provide that same authority to him for 209 projects, and I don't think that he has been satisfied that you have done so, nor that you have taken remedial measures to pull back in some funds that he thinks were inappropriately spent that could be recovered.
But let us take it to a larger picture. When I first arrived in Congress in 1992, which was the same time that the Clinton administration began, there were efforts begun by former Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse from Oregon, who served in this Congress I believe in the 104th and the 105th Congresses. She introduced a bill in at least two of those Congresses that would have liberalized the small watershed program. It would have removed the 20 percent rural requirement. It would have allowed non-profit groups with no expertise in resource conservation to receive Federal funds for such a new and expanded list of projects. But the Congress rejected those amendments and bills each time they were introduced.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So I am wondering given the fact that the Congress did not act on something that would have specifically authorized the type of project we just described, how you could get around that since you couldn't get the law changed to carry out the policy of Ms. Furse's proposed legislation, it appears that you ignored the law and provided the funding for these activities anyway. How would you respond to that charge?
Mr. LYONS. Well, Mr. Chairman, we are talking about a different authority and different statute. Perhaps I could have Chief Reed address the issues related to the first amendment that you just discussed if I could.
Mr. GOODLATTE. That would be fine. I would be happy to hear his comments.
Mr. REED. Mr. Chairman, I believe the Congresswoman's proposed bill related to the Public Law 566, which is the Small Watershed Program that had the prohibition on spending money over and above the 20 percent threshold.
Mr. GOODLATTE. But the law that I just read to you also requires a 20 percent rural benefit from the project. How would this Los Angeles project have a 20 percent rural benefit?
Mr. REED. And I am not prepared to comment on that.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, we are kind of at awe are stymied then, aren't we, in terms of getting to the bottom of this. We have a large group of folks led by Mr. Lyons coming before us to defend these programs but you can't cite the legislative authority for the program.
Mr. LYONS. Well, Mr. Chairman, I submitted for the record the OGC opinion that I think explains that legislative authority, and I based at least my understanding of our authorities based on that opinion.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Viadero, would you like to comment on that?
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. VIADERO. Yes. Thanks, Mr. Chairman. This is our nexus if you will in difference. We have asked essentially the same question, give us documentation as to how you arrived, authorized these 209 projects. Basically we were responded to by saying we can't do that. We can do it for all the future projects but we have no ability to go in the past and find out how we did it. And if I can, if you will bear with me, linking back to Mr. Phelps' point, and I know you have a copy of our audit report, on page 24 is a perfect answer to Mr. Phelps in that there was a joint Forest Service NRCS review. And the report was on this, and they looked at URP operations in four cities. And they reported similar findings as we did, and that report was issued in January, 1999. The Forest Service and NRCS review team found that nine of 36 URP awards reviewed or 25 percent had components not appropriate to the legislative authority of the funding agencies. That is Mr. Lyons' own group advising him that. We are in the same position.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I think we are still in the same position today. Mr. Lyons, what I don't understand is after all of the requests from the Inspector General, you know what the issues are. Why do you come today and still not be able to respond to us how it is that this particular project, which you brought a big color photograph of, is authorized under law?
Mr. LYONS. Well, I would submit to you, Congressman, that consistent with the OGC opinion and the authority cited there that it is consistent with the law, and I would also make a point that in the review that was conducted by the Forest Service and the NRCS of projects they did emphasize the fact that there were, to use Roger's words, components of projects that may not have fit. And of course, that is what we have attempted to fix, that is why new guidance has been provided, to insure that projects in their entirety are consistent with the legal authorities under which we operate.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Do you know how many of the 209 programs that Mr. Viadero cited you would agree with didn't fit under the guidelines and therefore needed to be as you say fixed?
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LYONS. I think the agencies would be in a better position to answer that, Mr. Chairman, because you know, they have been working directly with Mr. Viadero in trying to develop guidance and also in trying to determine how thehow to insure that new projects come on line and are consistent with the existing authorities. I have personally not reviewed 209 projects I can assure you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Is somebody reviewing all 209 projects?
Mr. LYONS. Perhaps I could have Pearlie or Phil talk about how they have been working with Mr. Viadero's office on this one issue.
Mr. REED. Mr. Chairman, we are in the process of working with the Inspector General's staff in taking a look at each and every one of the projects, and in my view the major problem right now if I am permitted to give you my view is that Mr. Lyons, Mr. Viadero, and our General Counsel needs to come to an agreement, and then once that agreement is reached on how we are going to handle these recommendations, the NRCS and I believe the Forest Service is prepared to move forward to implement that agreement. Since 1998 we have insured that everything is 100 percent. The issues in question right now are those number, whatever the number is, that are outstanding that there are higher-level folks trying to decide on whether or not we will go back in and take a look at each and every one of those. But we are prepared to move out tomorrow morning and look at every one if that is the agreement of Mr. Lyons, Mr. Viadero, and our attorneys.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, I think Mr. Viadero's been asking for that for a long time.
Mr. LYONS. If I could ask Mr. Janik to just say a few comments about this, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. JANIK. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My name is Phil Janik. I am the Chief Operating Officer of the Forest Service. When I first came to the Washington office on my second tour, it was as Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry where we have most of the privileges and authorizations to engage in services as we called them off-site off of National Forest Systems. And that was in spring or early summer of 1998. This program was well in motion by that time but working with the folks from NRCS and ourselves we recognized based on our own observations, later reinforced by the report that Mr. Viadero has mentioned a number of times, that we had some procedural things that needed to be looked at. And we aggressively have done that.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We have conducted the manager review that you have heard about from those findings and then from the very serious findings of the OIG report we have tried our best to work as two agencies to correct the very procedures that were identified as being deficient.
The Urban Forestry Assistance generally is a demand that is ever increasing, and the pressure on these two agencies to provide more technical assistance to communities as has been said by some of the members of your committee, the intent is very honorable, noble, and we are trying to be responsive. We do take all the deficiencies that have been identified procedurally very seriously. We are trying to correct those. We have generated a national guidance document. We have arranged for training of the very people that have to make some of those local decisions regarding compliance or projects, and we would hope the record of compliance would improve dramatically in the future.
Nevertheless, we know that there are things on record here that need to be addressed, and we are trying our best to do so.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you. The gentlewoman from North Carolina.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you. Again, Mr. Lyons, the program was started when again?
Mr. LYONS. In 1994, Mrs. Clayton.
Mrs. CLAYTON. And in lieu of going through the ministry of regulation I am assuming that the National Partnership, what is the partnership guidelines called?
Mr. LYONS. I am sorry. I wasn't sure what you were referring to.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Well, you had lifted up in your testimony that there had been a National Guidance.
Mr. LYONS. Oh, the Guidance document.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Guidance document.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LYONS. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. And I was wondering when was that promulgated?
Mr. LYONS. We have actually just recently re-released or released this National Guidance Document, which was an update of the 1994 guidance that was in place. It was a document that was prepared in consultation with the General Counsel's office as well as the Office of the Inspector General.
Mrs. CLAYTON. In 1994?
Mr. LYONS. No. The most recent document
Mrs. CLAYTON. No, in 1995
Mr. LYONS. I know. That was prepared by the agency. The initial document was prepared by Forest Service and NRCS.
Mrs. CLAYTON. And what year was that?
Mr. LYONS. It was March 1995. I apologize.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Now, the program went into effect when?
Mr. LYONS. It began at that time.
Mrs. CLAYTON. OK. So I am trying to get a nexus to the fact that there were not administrative regulation, and I am assuming that was done in lieu of that.
Mr. LYONS. That is correct. OK.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Now, my understanding, Mr. Viadero, that that was done in consultation with your office.
Mr. LYONS. Mrs. Clayton, we just received, excuse me. We just received the update.
Mr. VIADERO. Yes. We have the 1995 document, however, we just received the National Guidance that Mr. Lyons referred to last week.
Mrs. CLAYTON. That was the update I gather.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LYONS. That is correct but I want to emphasis just to be clear weyou may have received it last week but there was extensive consultation with the IG asin preparation.
Mr. VIADERO. Yes, but, Mrs. Clayton, if I can
Mrs. CLAYTON. Yes.
Mr. VIADERO. We just received that 1994 document he was referring to this morning at 7:49.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Oh, you never had that document?
Mr. VIADERO. No, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Why not if it was done in consultation with you?
Mr. VIADERO. I have no idea.
Mrs. CLAYTON. OK.
Mr. VIADERO. That one was not, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Is that why you referred to the missing tape?
Mr. VIADERO. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I got it. And also poetically I say 18 minutes. But anyhowso when was the next update?
Mr. LYONS. The update of the formal Guidance was what we recently prepared working with the IG and OGC.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Yes, but when?
Mr. LYONS. Well, we worked on it over the last year. It was just issued this month, this past month.
Mrs. CLAYTON. OK. So 2000, and that was September. Is that correct?
Mr. LYONS. Correct.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. Now, should we look for that to give guidance as to procedures and management to local groups as to what is permissible and what is required to meet the authority of the legislation?
Mr. LYONS. Yes. What this Guidance Document does it provide guidance to departmental officials in working with local interests in terms of procedures for grant approval authorities, how to implement or
Mrs. CLAYTON. Now, I am aware the guidance does not have the same authority as a Federal regulation but would you accept these guidance as a substitute for not having an administrative regulation, therefore, people understood these guidance and directions were to be followed?
Mr. LYONS. I am going to ask Phil if he could address that if you don't mind.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Sure.
Mr. JANIK. OK. As to whether the regulations were to be required or not obviously there has been a disagreement on that over time, and the Regulations are now going to be published. But the review that was held that I mentioned earlier that came out in May of 1999, the results of that NRCS Forest Service review, in that document and then in the report, accomplishment report that was published just this very week for this fiscal year, starts to really hone in on those projects through a screening process that are considered appropriate and those that are not. And hopefully with the National Guidance Document and with the further information through these reviews and now the regulations, we will be really tightening up that kind of direction and couple that with training of the local folks. We expect that a lot of these deficiencies will be taken care of.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I am trying to get at just a sequence as to what oversight the administration of the agencies were giving to the local communities, and I am assuming that the guidance were statements of directions and intent that you were being clear as to what was required.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. JANIK. That is correct.
Mrs. CLAYTON. OK. Now, the other one, we amended the Soil and Water Conservation Law in 1998. Now, what are you currently operating this program? Is the current program being operated under the revision we made in 1998 of the Soil Conservation Domestic Allocation Act?
Mr. JANIK. I have to assume that since the OGC reviewed those authorities in January 5, 2000, and rendered their opinion.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Well, Mr. Viadero, will you confirm rather that is what you are using now?
Mr. VIADERO. I would ask Mr. Ebbitt if he could answer that.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you.
Mr. VIADERO. Thank you, ma'am.
Mr. EBBITT. Yes, Mrs. Clayton, the General Counsel cites the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1935 presumably as amended as the authority for carrying out this program.
Mrs. CLAYTON. OK.
Mr. EBBITT. Very pointedly saying a nexus to soil erosion must be there. That is on the NRCS side. Now, the Forest Service on its side of grant making has other authorities which actually theI am not positive that the General Counsel has addressed in this particular letter but he had cited, the General Counsel had cited broader, broad authority of the Secretary under the Forest Service side as long as it was related to things such as tree planting activities.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I got you.
Mr. LYONS. Mrs. Clayton?
Mrs. CLAYTON. Yes.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LYONS. I want to reference another part of the same OGC opinion because this is continuing focus on what conservation activities are authorized, and the chairman raised some questions about relation to rural communities.
This is from the OGC opinion which I have submitted for the record January 5, 2000, which Mr. Ebbitt is referencing as well. And it is going to take a second but let me just read some relevant parts.
Mrs. CLAYTON. What page are you reading from?
Mr. LYONS. I don't know if you have that in front of you
Mrs. CLAYTON. We have his report.
Mr. LYONS. No. This is not from the IG Report. This is the actual OGC opinion.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I can read it.
Mr. LYONS. We can give you a copy of that because I think it would help clarify something. On page 2 of the opinion the OGC states,
In reviewing our July opinion pursuant to your request
The July opinion is what the OIG used as a basis for their audit
again reviewed relevant NRCS authorities to carry out the URP initiative. As part of this effort we reviewed the annual appropriation authority for NRCS from 1993 to present. The Congress has enacted the following recurring appropriation for conservation operations each year
Now, conservation operations is where the funding for URP comes from
for necessary expenses for carrying out the provisions of the act of April 27, 1935, including preparation of conservation plans and establishment of measures to conserve soil and water, including farm irrigation and land drainage and such special measures for soil and water management as may be necessary to prevent floods and siltation of reservoirs and to control agricultural related pollutants
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This is the OGC again
we believe that the recurring including language in Conservation Operations Appropriations confirms the Secretary's broad authority under the 1935 Act to undertake soil and water conservation measures related to soil erosion and to achieve policies and purposes of the act.
It goes on to say that
The center report language accompanying the fiscal year 2000 appropriation describes the activities authorized by the 1935 act. Conservation operations are authorized by the public law, which is sited. Activities include conservation technical assistance. Provides assistance to district cooperators and other land users in the planning and application of conservation treatments to control erosion and improve the quantity and quality of soil erosions, improve and conserve water, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, conserve energy, improve woodland, pasture, and range conditions, reduce upstream flooding, all to protect and enhance the natural resource base.
The House report also goes on and offers an explanation of what would qualify under conservation's operations. And they referenced reduce soil erosion, improve soil and water quality and quantity, improve and conserve wetlands, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, improve water quality, improve pasture and range conditions, reduce upstream flooding, improve woodlands.
The point I want to make is that there is further clarification of the act reflected in the appropriations bills, and I think this is the reason, I know this is the reason that we make the point that there is broad authority that is authorized under the 1935 act which is amplified by the direction provided by the Appropriations Committee for how the conservation operation funds can be used. And it is that basis the OGC used to render the opinion they have.
If you would like, I can give you a copy of that.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Oh, thank you. Let me, because I have exceeded my time but I haven't finished my point. The act has beenapparently this has been supplement and clarification by the Appropriative Committee making their interpretation and apparently there is also information that is not part of the appropriation but may be part of the actual history of the committee. All of that goes to the clarification. Obviously, that brings in clarification but it is the statute that you start from rather than start from the extraneous support document as good as that may be. So if in the statute there had some opportunity, it seems to me, and I just want towant Mr. Viadero to also hear this. In the, whoever has the 1998 revised, it says here, to carry out preventive measures, and by the way, it says all the things you have said earlier about drainage and protection of soil and grading, all those things. It also says among other things it can do, it can conduct surveys, investigation, research relating to the care to the soil, erosion, preventive measures needed to publish results, and a variety of issues.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Then, too, it says, to carry out preventive measures including but not limited to engineering, operation, methods of cultivation, the growing of vegetation, and the change of soil. It seems to me they are allindeed there is permissive language in the statute. Now, this is 1998 so you are going to have to recognize that those before 1998 have to comply with whatever the law is but it does indeed give some permissive language. The nexus still needs to be made so my case for seeing a mural on the wall, if those other things were there, it indeed would be one of those activities.
That doesn't excuse the fact. They still have to have the diligence and the procedure followed but having artwork or having education work or having research or having surveys related to that are certainly permissible if you are using the statutes. So I just wanted to put it in the record there is indeed in the statute the permissive language to do things. It does not diminish the requirement on the part of the agency of requiring local, giving the kind of direction that a local organization would know the fiscal responsibility they have to indeed implement the program that they have gotten monies for. But there is indeed, and I think also, Mr. Chairman, in responding a little bit to you where you were questioning the statutes so I think I want to broaden that understanding that there is permissible understanding. They still may be in deficit in terms of their management but I don't know if that is legal in terms of the authority. That is all I have, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you. We are getting close to a vote. I know the gentleman from Kansas has some additional questions. Why don't we go ahead and start those.
Mr. MORAN. That would be great and perhaps they can respond to my questions in writing subsequent. But first let me say that your conversation, your questioning of Mr. Lyons I think points out the point I was attempting to make with the OGC's legal opinion, which it seems to me is not an opinion. It says, you have a greater understanding of the nexus than we do. We are not answering the question and yet when we asked the agency about whether or not they are legally permissible, they refused to say that there is a nexus and therefore legal. So it seems to me that both the agency and the OGC has had the opportunity to lead us in a circle today.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I would like to ask Mr. Lyons, he indicates as I understand his testimony that the conservation operations account ishis authority to administer that account is broad and gives him the authority in support of URP. I think that is a generalization of what I have heard today but I also know that we have had difficulties with the Department of Agriculture in your opinion that that same account does not havethat you did not have the authority to utilize that account for technical assistance for CRP and for EQIP. And so on one hand we are hearing about the broadness of your authority to allow URP activities but we also hear in other instances where you believe you don't have the legal authority to do what I would say is the mission of the Department of Agriculture when it comes to conservation, things calls EQIP and CRP.
Mr. LYONS. Well, let me respond, Congressman, by saying that I think the Secretary in his letter to the Appropriations Committee chairman emphasized the fact that there is broad authority under conservation operations to fund URP activities. I think what you are discussing with regard to CRP and EQIP funding is a separate issue, and we have simply ordered that additional resources are needed to be able to cover the extent to which technical assistance is required for those programs, and we certainly have made the case that we believe that some of those funds should come from CCC. Some, in fact, do, however, the section 11 and cap, which I am sure you are familiar with, severely limits our ability to fund those activities. And so we have simply I think drawn that distinction.
We have a tremendous, you know, demand for the use of conservation operations resources, which you have cited yourself. And so we think CCC would be the appropriate place to provide additional support since CCC is the base for funding CRP and CERP activities.
Mr. MORAN. And apparently then reach the conclusion that URP has a higher priority than EQIP or CRP.
Mr. LYONS. No, sir, I haven't at all. In fact, I would make two points. One is that $2 million is less than one-tenth of 1 percent of conservation operations. It is a drop in the bucket in terms of the support that needs to be provided for CRP. I would make this additional point, though.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think we have an obligation to provide some conservation assistance and support to urban areas where 80 percent of all Americans reside.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Lyons, let me jump in here because I would like to ask a question if the gentleman would yield.
Mr. MORAN. I would yield.
Mr. GOODLATTE. In that regard why didn't the president request these funds in his 2001 budget request that we are in the process of working on right now?
Mr. LYONS. Which funds are those?
Mr. GOODLATTE. That we are concerned about in the authorization that you have.
Mr. LYONS. The URP projects?
Mr. GOODLATTE. Yes.
Mr. LYONS. We actually sent an extensive detailing of what would be funded for urban projects out of conservation operations in our budget submission. We did provide that information to the Appropriations Committee.
Mr. GOODLATTE. But if the law says that it has to have a 20 percent rural variable, why not simply make a clean break here and ask for a specific separate line item appropriation for these projects?
Mr. LYONS. Well, we don't believe that that authority is necessary. Again, we have had this discussion. We believe the authority exists in citing the provisions that have already been cited in statute and report language and appropriations bills.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I think we are not going to enddo you have some additional questions you would like to submit for the record?
Mr. MORAN. Let me summarize if I may, Mr. Chairman. My understanding of Mr. Lyons' testimony is that they do have the authority to provide technical assistance for EQIP and for CRP, and it is a question of the necessary resources to provide that technical assistance. And is that accurate, Mr. Lyons?
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LYONS. We do believe we have the authority, and I would just amplify that by saying as I stated at the outset. You know, these activities, these urban activities have been ongoing since before my tenure in office so we use that as a basis to make the case.
Mr. GOODLATTE. With general yul?
Mr. LYONS. Yes.
Mr. GOODLATTE. In the year 2000 you did make a specific request.
Mr. LYONS. Notwe didn't make a line-item request but we detailed in our submission to the Appropriations Committee how conservation operation funds would be used to implement URP activities.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, I don't think we have resolved this issue today and
Mr. LYONS. We can provide that for the record, Mr. Chairman. I would be glad to.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, we would like you to provide that for the record, and we would like the Inspector General to continue his efforts to get to the bottom of this matter. And we would like the committee to receive a report back from you and from the Inspector General as to the progress made in resolving this issue.
Unfortunately, we have a vote on the floor, and I don't want to tie up all of the folks you brought here so we are going to adjourn the hearing at this time but we are not by any means suspending our interest in this matter.
So the Chair would seek a unanimous consent to allow the record of today's hearing to remain open for 10 days to receive the additional material that Mr. Lyons has promised and other supplementary written responses from witnesses to any question posed by a member of the panel. Without objection it is so ordered, and this hearing of the subcommittee is adjourned. Thank you all, and I apologize for having to run.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Whereupon, at 11:45 a.m., the subcommittee was adjourned, subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Material submitted for inclusion in the record follows:]
Prepared Statement of Hon. Jose E. Serrano, a Representative in Congress from the State of New York
Mr. Chairman, thank you for giving me this opportunity to express my views on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Urban Resources Partnership (URP) Initiative. I know that during this hearing you will be discussing the Inspector General's evaluation of URP. I would, however, like to take a few minutes to share with the subcommittee how successful this program has been in the South Bronx district that I represent. URP has been a positive representation of the Department of Agriculture in a very needy urban district. It has provided the impetus for the local community to effect positive change.
In my congressional district, Urban Resources Partnership has operated efficiently and delivered Federal services in a very cost-effective way. For example, a Federal commitment of $200,000 leveraged more than $2 million to create a community park and garden on what had been a trash-filled vacant lot. It is hard to describe to you what impact this park has had on the quality of life and the sense of pride and achievement it has generated in this local community. If you visit the South Bronx, and I invite you to, I guarantee that you will be impressed with this very successful Urban Resources Partnership project and confident that the money has been carefully and productively spent.
Another URP project that, using any objective criteria, would be judged highly successful is the Bronx River/Zooway Project. This project resulted in the transformation of an unsightly vacant lot between the Phipps Beacon School and the Bronx River into an environmental learning area. In addition, funding was used for the creation of a pedestrian walkway connecting the West Farms subway station to the Bronx Zoo. These types of projects can transform urban
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCareas and immediately bring the value of natural resources and open spaces to urban residents.
A third URP project is the Bronx River Project. During my more than 25 years in public office, I have been an advocate of restoring the 23-mile Bronx River as a resource for the local community. URP has been working closely with the Bronx River Working Group, which is composed of Partnerships for Parks and local community groups that are united in their goal of restoring the River. In this case, the involvement of URP has been the catalyst that has energized a local community and real progress is now being made and the vision of a restored urban river has become a reality.
I recognize that my support and enthusiasm for this program are not universally shared, and I am hopeful that during this hearing today any concerns with respect to the Inspector General's findings can be explained and addressed. I would hope, however, that this initiative, which has so energized the South Bronx, can continue. Whenever abandoned spaces can be reclaimed as open spaces that celebrate our natural resources a victory has been won. The Urban Resources Partnership has been a real success story in the South Bronx, and again, I invite members of this subcommittee to visit the South Bronx to see firsthand the transformations that have been achieved and the enthusiasm that this initiative has generated in the local communities.
Testimony of Roger C. Viadero
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I am pleased to be here to provide testimony about the Department of Agriculture's Urban Resources Partnership (URP) Program.
The Department initiated the URP program in fiscal year 1994. The Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment established URP to work directly with local people on natural resource related projects in urban areas. USDA expenditures for URP totaled $20.3 million in 13 cities/areas through fiscal year 1999.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The prescribed process for implementing a Federal financial assistance program was not followed for URP, as it was initiated without specific statutory authority or congressional appropriations. The program was financed using funds appropriated for other existing FS and NRCS programs. Further, regulations were not promulgated in the Federal Register to publicize the objectives and requirements of the program.
In July 1999, OGC determined that there was no authorizing legislation for URP and concluded that FS and NRCS had limited authority to provide assistance under the URP program. OGC stated that the lack of specific authorizing legislation for URP limited NRCS' ability to provide funds to activities involving soil erosion prevention. NRCS officials had cited the Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act of 1977 as the authority for funding URP; however, Congress did not appropriate funds for activities to carry out this act during fiscal year's 1994 through 1999. OGC also stated that the FS had broader authority to fund URP projects under the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act, but such authority was limited to assistance involving trees, forest cover, shrubs, and associated natural resources.
We noted a number of other specific problems. Cities/areas were not selected to participate in URP on a competitive basis. Criteria used to select cities/areas included, but were not limited to, political support, strength of congressional delegation, diversity of population, and potential for Federal agency funding from existing programs.
Also, URP recipients did not always use funds to meet the purposes of the applicable statutes from which the appropriated funds were obtained. Of 156URP awards reviewed, totaling $4.4 million in four cities/areas, we found that 131 awards for $3.4 million did not meet the purposes of one or more FS and/or NRCS statutes (e.g., soil erosion, tree planting) from which the awards were funded. Therefore, these awards should not have been made. For example, in one case in Los Angeles, $4,500 provided by NRCS was used to pay artists to paint wall murals. (see exhibit).
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition, the program did not include controls to ensure that award funds were used in accordance with applicable Federal regulations. Members of local steering committees frequently had little or no prior experience in managing Federal programs. As a result, USDA and OMB grant regulations were not adhered to and recipients claimed unallowable rates for personnel and equipment. Thus over $474,000 of their claims is subject to recovery.
We recommended all URP grants be reviewed to determine their legal authority and fulfillment of purposes under the applicable statutes, and that a strategy be developed to resolve all issues. We also recommended that the Department publish applicable requirements and procedures for the URP program in the Federal Register and establish control procedures at the Under Secretary level to ensure that all program initiatives be forwarded to OGC for review prior to implementation.
In response to our recommendations, the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment requested a clarifying opinion from the OGC regarding its July 1999 opinion in which it determined there was no authorizing legislation for URP. OGC's clarification stated that the Secretary has broad authority to undertake soil and water conservation measures relating to soil erosion; however, the agency must ensure that any proposed URP activity falls within the scope of that authority. Based on the OGC clarification, the Under Secretary believes that the FS and NRCS have sufficient legal authority to undertake the activities conducted under URP.
However, the General Counsel's clarification made it clear that URP projects funded by NRCS through the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act must relate to soil erosion prevention. Projects such as painting wall murals, transportation, and bringing civil lawsuits against owners of derelict properties to force demolition or rehabilitation of structures have no linkage to such programs and, therefore, funds from appropriations for such programs may not be used to fund these activities.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We have been unable to reach agreement with the Under Secretary and the Chiefs of NRCS and FS on any of the actions needed to resolve the issues addressed in our report. We have provided detailed information to the Under Secretary describing the specific actions needed to resolve each of our recommendations. To date, we have not received any communication from the Under Secretary that such actions have been or will be taken.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions you or other members of the committee may have.
Testimony of James R. Lyons
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee:
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the Urban Resources Partnership (URP). I am accompanied by Chief Pearlie Reed; Joan Comanor, Director, Resource Conservation and Community Development Division; Lloyd Wright of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); and Phil Janik, Robin Thompson, and Larry Payne, Chief Operating Officer; Associate Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry; and Director of Cooperative Forestry, respectively, of the USDA Forest Service (FS).
At the beginning of my tenure at USDA, I initiated the Urban Resources Partnership to explore how the Federal Government could better address urban natural resource concerns and better serve the needs of disadvantaged and minority communities in urban settings. The Urban Resources Partnership is one of the few initiatives to directly address inner-city natural resource issues. With a modest investment of $4 million annually for each of the previous seven fiscal years$2 million from the Forest Service and $2 million from the Natural Resources Conservation Servicethe Urban Resources Partnership provides valuable technical and financial assistance to under-served communities. As such, it is one way to address environmental justice issues.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Both the Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service initiated urban programs in the past. The Urban Resources Partnership simply continued these efforts with added emphasis on serving minority communities and neighborhoods in and around major metropolitan areas. This is essential for several reasons.
First, 80 percent of all Americansmore than 190 million peoplereside in urban areas, yet less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the budget for forestry and conservation programs is dedicated to serving urban residents. The social, psychological, and economic values of trees, open space, community gardens, waterfronts, and urban parklands are well-documented and improve the livability of communities and the quality of life for urban residents. Urban residents often have little connection with agriculture, forestry, or conservation, resulting in an incomplete understanding of natural resources and their environment. Building a connection to conservation and natural resources for urban residents is essential since the views and opinions of urban residents and their representatives have a strong influence on national priorities. Without this connection, future support for agriculture, forestry, and conservation may be at risk. And, finally, given U.S. demographics, our Nation's future leaders are more likely to grow up in urban areas. If they are to have an appreciation for agriculture, forestry, and the conservation of natural resources, exposure to these areas at an early age is critical.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE URBAN RESOURCES PARTNERSHIP
The Urban Resources Partnership was initiated to improve the efficiency of Federal agency efforts to provide conservation technical assistance and financial support to urban communities. A number of agencies in the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency were providing such assistance, but often with limited coordination and collaboration. Given the severe limits on funding and personnel working in urban forestry and conservation, the need existed to maximize the efficiency of these programs and their delivery systems. This innovative approach was recognized by the Innovations in American Government competition sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard Universitythe Urban Resources Partnership was a semi-finalist in 1997.
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In 1994, limited funding was provided to four pilot citiesAtlanta, Chicago, New York, and Seattleto explore a new delivery system for conservation assistance to urban residents. The initiative used a block grant model for the delivery of funds to each city, but stressed the need for interagency collaboration and local partnership to ensure the most efficient use of funds.
The rationale for selecting the cities for this initial effort was simple. Each provided geographic diversity. There existed strong political support for urban forestry and conservation activities as illustrated by ongoing projects and programs. Each city had strong local support for the initiative and provided different opportunities to explore how to improve the delivery of conservation and forestry services in urban environments.
For the first 4 years of the Urban Resources Partnership, all funds were invested in on the ground projects to the maximum extent possible. Overhead was provided by funds from other agencies or by donations from local governments and conservation partners. For example, local coordinators might secure office space, phone and clerical support from a mayor's office and salary and/or benefits from another agency.
The Urban Resources Partnership improved its delivery of financial and technical assistance by working with local governments, state agencies, community and neighborhood groups and nonprofit partners to identify opportunities for investing in projects. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Forest Service made better decisions regarding the projects to support because of the locally-led dialogue that occurred. Project funds were matched with local resources, thus multiplying the benefits of limited Federal investments. In addition, technical assistance and support to projects were provided by each of the agencies in a one-stop shopping manner. Thus, a community could make one request and receive tree planting advice from the Forest Service, soil conservation consultation from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and landscape design assistance from the National Park Service to complete a project.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Urban Resources Partnership pilots were so successful that in 1995, a number of cities made unsolicited requests to be designated Urban Resources Partnership cities. As a result, the Urban Resources Partnership expanded to include Denver, East St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. Of the cities that expressed an interest in joining the partnership, these four cities seemed the best prepared to implement the initiative. In 1997, an application process was established and San Francisco, Las Vegas, South Florida, Buffalo, and Boston were added to the Urban Resources Partnership under the guidance of a national steering committee.
It is important to note that while the number of Urban Resources Partnership cities expanded, the funds allocated to the initiative did not increase. That is, the $4 million provided annually by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Forest Service to the Urban Resources Partnership was allocated among the partnership cities, with each receiving a smaller share as the number of partners increased. Although other cities sought to join the Urban Resources Partnership, this self-imposed funding limit precluded expanding the partnership after 1997.
URBAN RESOURCES PARTNERSHIP ADMINISTRATION
Federal agencies provide overall guidance to Urban Resources Partnership grant recipients and technical and financial assistance to the extent authorized. Forest Service authority to provide this assistance derives from the urban and community forestry assistance section of the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act (16 USC 2105). Natural Resource Conservation Service authority to provide assistance to the Urban Resources Partnership initiative is based on the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act [16 U.S.C. 590 (a)(f)]. Partnership projects funded by the Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service focus on open space enhancement, water quality improvement, prevention of soil erosion, creation of urban habitat, environmental education and land stewardship. Whether it is helping residents to plant trees, teaching young people life skills through the creation of interpretive nature trails, or restoring wildlife habitats, the Urban Resources Partnership represents a commitment by Federal agencies to work collaboratively with local residents to address their communities' environmental needs.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Initial guidance was provided to the first four pilot Urban Resources Partnership cities under the direction of the Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service. In 1996, a summary report highlighted Urban Resources Partnership projects, goals, and objectives in participating cities. Urban Resources Partnership coordinators, Federal agencies, and local partners began meeting annually in 1995 to address administrative issues and share information. The Urban Resources Partnership coordinators also continue to participate in monthly conference calls.
The Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service initiated a management review of the Urban Resources Partnership in 1998 to ensure that each of the 13 cities was in full compliance with all Federal rules and procedures. The Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service management directed their State Conservationists and Regional Foresters, respectively, to complete a number of tasks to ensure the fiscal accountability of the Urban Resources Partnership, including:
Ensure that all on-going Urban Resources Partnership project funds are used in line with existing legislative authorities. Develop and approve work plans for all on-going projects and ensuring that all new projects have an approved work plan before a grant or agreement is signed. Establish and maintain official project files in the Regional or State offices of the agency with the lead in overseeing each city.
State Conservationists and Regional Foresters reported that each of the above tasks was completed, bringing the original eight cities into compliance with agency regulations and authorities. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Forest Service ensured that the five cities added in 1997 designed their efforts in full compliance with agency regulations and authorities.
More recently, a National Guidance Document was prepared to update and expand the original guidance provided in 1994. The Inspector General's office reviewed the guidance before it was finalized. An Accomplishments Report was also recently completed and is included in this testimony.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCOFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL'S AUDIT
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) completed an audit of the Urban Resources Partnership in November, 1999. The audit identified four main issues of concern regarding implementation of the Urban Resources Partnership. USDA continues to take the findings and recommendations of the Inspector General very seriously and are making every effort to comply to their satisfaction. Where the Inspector General has indicated that the agencies' response is inadequate, a dialog continues to ensure that appropriate and necessary corrective actions are taken. Our responses to date are detailed below.
Issue 1: Administrative Procedures. As stated earlier, USDA initiated a management review of the Urban Resource Partnership cities prior to the Inspector General's report. The review brought each of the cities into compliance with agency rules and regulations.
The Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service took additional corrective actions to address the recommendations from the Inspector General's audit:
The agencies worked with field offices to develop a National Guidance Document to ensure that no administrative lapses occur in the future. Both the office of General Counsel and the Inspector General's office reviewed the National Guidance Document before it was distributed to field offices. The National Guidance Document updates the original guidance sent to each of the first four Urban Resources Partnership pilot cities in 1994.
Project reviews are conducted annually in each Urban Resources Partnership city by the Forest Service regional Urban and Community Forestry coordinator and regional grant administrator. They review a selection of Urban Resources Partnership grant records, visit project sites and meet with grant recipients. Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationists and their State contracting staff are conducting similar reviews.
All Forest Service regional coordinators, Natural Resources Conservation Service local Urban Resources Partnership coordinators, and many Federal steering team members received training in managing Federal financial assistance grants at the Urban Resources Partnership national meeting in January 2000. They and their regional grants management staffs are continuing their oversight of the initiative through site visits, yearly meetings with grant recipients, and functional assistance trips. The Natural Resources Conservation Service held a national grants and agreements workshop in February 2000 attended by more than 300 procurement, financial and contracting specialists and program staff.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Forest Service developed updated program direction for the Urban and Community Forestry Program and a list of appropriate Urban and Community Forestry Program activities and criteria for project selection.
Issue 2: Legal Authority. The Inspector General questioned the legal authority of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to work in urban areas. We believe that the legal authority for the Urban Resources Partnership is well documented. The Office of General Counsel, after a comprehensive review of both the language in the Conservation Operations appropriations and the legislative history for the appropriations acts ''confirms the Secretary's broad authority under the 1935 Act to undertake soil and water conservation measures relating to soil erosion to achieve the policies and purposes of the 1935 [Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment] Act.''
In 1994, prior to the implementation of the Urban Resources Partnership, a number of offices, including the Office of General Counsel, Strategic Planning and Budget Analysis, Accounting and Grants, Fiscal Operations and Administrative Services, reviewed the operating procedures for the Urban Resources Partnership initiative. The attached memo, dated April 5, 1994, reflects the review and consultation of these officials in response to a request from Lloyd Wright, the Natural Resources Conservation Service official who provided initial oversight and guidance in developing the Urban Resources Partnership.
The Urban Resources Partnership funding, authorities, and activities have been detailed for Congress on several occasions. In December, 1997, USDA provided a report to the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee, detailing activities of the Partnership, including inner-city beautification and creation of outdoor learning centers. The Subcommittee stated that there was no objection to the allocation of funds for these activities.
In addition, the fiscal year 1999 report from the House Committee on Appropriations stated, ''The committee recognizes the participation of the NRCS in the Urban Resources Partnership. The Urban Resources Partnership (URP) is a multi-agency effort to assist urban and suburban communities to improve management and conservation of their natural resources. It has served as a catalyst to encourage local communities to participate in conservation activities. The Committee expects that the NRCS will continue their participation in URP.''
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Issue 3: Recovery of Funds. The Inspector General recommended that action to recover funds or waive improper payments for any grants made without proper legal authority be made. USDA continues to disagree that the legal authority is lacking for the Urban Resources Partnership. The Chiefs of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Forest Service, in a memo dated February 16, 1999, estimated that it would ''require a minimum of 18 months and a number of staff to complete the recommended review of all projects completed between fiscal year 1994 and fiscal year 1998. This would severely reduce the availability of key staff needed to provide appropriate administrative oversight to the ongoing work of the agencies in ensuring current projects are consistent with appropriate procedures and guidelines. Further, it is not in the public interest to attempt recovery of funds from grass-roots organizations that completed project activities accepted by the local URP steering team.''
Furthermore, as the Chiefs stated in their memo, grants made from FY98 and FY99 were made within applicable statutes and controls are in place to ensure that all future grants are similarly made.
Issue 4: Publication of Rules and Regulations. The Inspector General recommended that rules and regulations for the Urban Resources Partnership be published in the Federal Register. The Urban Resources Partnership is not a program, but simply a continuation of ongoing urban forestry and conservation activities. I should point out that many agency initiatives and programs function without the issuance of rules or regulations. For example, the Urban and Community Forestry program has functioned for 10 years with national guidance, but no formal rules. The ''America the Beautiful'' initiative, developed by the Bush administration, was not subject to rulemaking procedures. Finally, many of the programs that are critical to our national strategy for reducing wildfire riskfor which we are seeking additional funding todayare not being implemented through formal rules. Examples include the Fire Wise program; the State Fire Assistance program; the Volunteer Fire Assistance program; and the Forest Health Management and Economic Action programs.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Despite the fact that the Department believes that no formal rules are necessary, to be responsive to the Inspector General's concerns, an interim rule governing the Urban and Community Forestry program and the Urban Resources Partnership will be published within the next week.
Urban Resources Partnership: The Benefits. The Urban Resources Partnership successfully works with inner city residents to improve their lives and surroundings. This is critically important if we are to meet the challenges facing the stewardship of our natural resources in the future and ensure that all Americans realize the benefits of good conservation practices. The Urban Resources Partnership projects reduce soil erosion by supporting efforts to restore wetlands, plant trees, and revegetate vacant lots through the creation of parks, community gardens, and other open spaces. These activities also increase public awareness about natural resource issues, highlighting the need for soil conservation not only in urban areas, but rural communities as well. For example, a community group in Chicago was concerned about soil erosion on a vacant lot. The Natural Resources Conservation Service soil conservationists educated the community about how to conserve the soil and build raised beds to plant vegetables. Neighbors realized that a larger site, along the Chicago River, was also in need of soil conservation. A subsequent project, also supported by the Urban Resources Partnership, trained at-risk teenagers to build streambank terraces along the River and create a much-needed park for the community.
This is one example, but the larger benefits of tree planting and soil conservation are well-documented. Trees, forests, and related natural resources in cities are the living filter of the urban ecosystem. They clean our air, cool our cities, and conserve energy. They are a 69 million acre major economic and environmental asset to cities nationwide: a resource larger than the size of the State of Colorado, bigger than any one National Forest, and closer to all citizens. Through cooling of the urban heat island, our urban forests currently save U.S. consumers over $2 billion each year in energy costs alone. In short, they are the buffer that makes for sustained, viable, and livable cities. A healthy urban forest indicates a healthy, viable community. A deteriorating urban forest is one of the first indicators of a community in decay and decline.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There are important social and economic benefits as well, as parks and natural areas reduce crime and health-related costs, and increase property values and tourism.
In Philadelphia, after police helped neighborhood volunteers clean up vacant lots and plant gardens, burglaries and thefts in the precinct dropped 90 percentfrom about 40 crimes each month before the cleanup to an average of only four per month. Numerous studies have shown that parks, recreation and physical fitness and sports programs play a powerful role in helping youth stay out of trouble by improving academic performance and self-concept, making experimentation with drugs less likely. Parks and recreational programs reduce juvenile crime and curfew violations.
In New York, a hospital in Harlem credits the creation of neighborhoods parks and playgrounds in a reduction in emergency room visits by children. The Surgeon General estimates the Nation could save $20 billion per year if every sedentary American walked an hour a day.
Economically, parks increase property values, reduce health care costs, improve productivity and create stimuli for tourism. The purchase of open space to create parks enhances property values on adjacent lands and increases property tax revenues. It also generates economic activity in adjacent neighborhoods. For example, studies in Philadelphia, Columbus, and Minneapolis show the correlation of increases in property value with proximity to urban parks with anywhere from a seven percent to 33 percent increase in the value of those properties closest to the park.
The Urban Resources Partnership makes a difference for hundreds of thousands of peopletaxpaying citizens who have not been traditionally served by natural resource agencies. Following are some examples of the value of the Urban Resources Partnership:
In Philadelphia: For decades, the Northern Liberties part of Philadelphia was the only zip code area in the entire city that did not have a single patch of community greenspace or a city owned park. Using Urban Resources Partnership seed monies, the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, together with volunteers and a rainbow of community support and partnerships with various agencies and organizations all rallied together to create a remarkable 2-acre community park, garden, and multi-use educational resource from what was once a Superfund site.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In Denver: Through an Urban Resources Partnership grant, 300 of Denver's Oberon Middle School students rolled up their sleeves and transformed their neighborhood's dilapidated bus parking lot into a living, pollution filtering wetland. This student-run project created a retention pond and wetland to collect, filter, and purify storm water runoff from their school's grounds. The students also planted native trees and shrubs and installed a footbridge. They continue to maintain the wetland and use it as an outdoor classroom.
In Boston: Two of the greater Boston area's most diverse communities, East Boston and Chelsea, border a narrow strip of water known as Chelsea Creek. Both communities are burdened with above-average unemployment and per capita incomes that are below poverty level. Urban and industrial waste is a mainstay of Chelsea Creek and the surrounding communities. Through an Urban Resources Partnership grant, the Chelsea Creek Action Group mobilized successfully to improve their environment. They conducted a community mapping project to identify the origins of pollution, conducted various education and outreach activities, and carried out urban forestry projects with neighborhood groups to help mitigate the pollution effects.
In Seattle: As the city of Seattle has grown from the relatively quiet port city of the 1970's to its present place as the major industrial and manufacturing center for the northwest United States, the city has experienced its share of growing pains. One of the consequences of this transformation has been increased youth violence and vandalism. That is why the City of Seattle Parks and Recreation Department began the Teens for Recreation and Environmental Conservation program (TREC). TREC received both financial and technical assistance from the diverse coalition that makes up the Puget Sound Urban Resources Partnership. TREC recruits at-risk youth, provides them with hands-on planning and implementation training for environmental restoration projects, and then utilizes the program graduates as recruiters for the following season. To date, 7 individual conservation projects have been accomplished, and 30 youngsters have become ''Junior Naturalists.'' Bob Warner, TREC Coordinator stated, ''By mobilizing local volunteers to achieve conservation objectives we are paving the way for long-term protection and stewardship of our public lands and open spaces.''
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In San Francisco: The San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG) demonstrates the linkage between environmental and economic development programs, specifically welfare to work programs. SLUG is one of the largest welfare-to-work employers in the Bay Area, and the Urban Resources Partnership continues to be a partner in these important efforts to not only provide employment to inner-city residents, but to restore wetlands, plant trees, and increase awareness about natural resources.
Mr. Chairman, the Urban Resources Partnership improves the delivery of Federal services through the use of existing authorities and programs. In 13 cities, despite some early administrative lapses, the Urban Resources Partnership is a success. The Urban Resources Partnership recognizes these cities' vital role in enhancing and preserving not just open space and natural resources in neighborhoods and communities, but also in protecting the natural resource treasures valued by all Americans. At a very basic level, funding for future agricultural programs depends on the success of initiatives like the Urban Resources Partnership. As the Nation becomes more urbanized, we must cultivate new connections to the landto agriculture, forestry, and conservation. The Urban Resources Partnership fulfills that role.
This concludes my statement; I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Attachments: Urban Resources Partnership National Guidance Document, September 2000; February 3, 2000 Memorandum to Inspector General, with December 16, 1999; Memorandum to James R. Lyons from Pearlie S. Reed and Mike Dombeck, Chiefs, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Forest Service, respectively; April 5, 1994 Memorandum USDA Correspondence with Congress; Fiscal Year 1999 Report from the House Committee on Appropriations; Urban Resources Partnership Accomplishment Report, 2000; September 19, 2000 Memorandum to Inspector General; Interim final rule.
[Editor's note: the attachments are on file with the committee.]
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Agriculture
Subcommittee on Department Operations,
Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry
October 4, 2000
HON. JAMES R. LYONS
Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Washington, DC 20250
DEAR MR. LYONS:
I am writing to respond to your letter of September 22, 2000, regarding your authorities under the small watershed program, the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention of 1954.
You are correct that I cited 16 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. I also cited and have enclosed a February 6, 1998, letter from Secretary Glickman to then-Chairman Bob Smith, in which the Secretary said the small watershed program, among others ''. . . provide[s] the authority for the direct assistance NRCS provides to the District of Columbia.'' This direct assistance is the Plan of Action in the District of Columbia.
I then brought up the USDA Inspector General's report which stated on page 23 that the small watershed program was used to make a $98,000 grant to the Los Angeles Conservation Corps for community gardens. This grant and the assistance in the of Columbia (the District) provided funds for similar projects. Neither the Los Angeles grant nor the direct assistance to the District mentioned above meet the 20 percent rural test of the small watershed program.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC You may recall I also mentioned former Congresswoman Furse's bills introduced at least in two Congresses that sought to amend the small watershed program to provide NRCS with the authority to carry out the grants you have made in Los Angeles and the District. In addition to other substantial changes in the small watershed program, the Furse bills would have eliminated the 20 percent rural requirement.
In my statement, I said that Congress on at least two occasions turned down Ms. Furse's desire to change the small watershed program, and since the law could not be changed to carry out your desires, you merely ignored the law for pure political purposes as the USDA-IG report made perfectly clear.
Department of Agriculture
Office of the Secretary
Washington, DC 20250
February 26, 1998
HONORABLE ROBERT F. SMITH
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Committee on Agriculture
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 205156001
This is in response to your letter of January 6, 1998, which was co-signed by Congressmen Stenholm, Combest, and Dooley, concerning the Department of Agriculture's Plan of Action in the District of Columbia. I have enclosed a copy of the plan for your information
This plan responds to the President's challenge to the Congress and the Federal Government to take steps to uplift our Nation's capital and its residents, and return our capital to a shining example of American excellence.
USDA has, under several of its existing authorities and appropriations, provided assistance to the District of Columbia for many years. Section 6 of the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act of 1978 (Public Law 95313) provides the specific authority for the Forest Service to provide a wide range of urban forestry assistance. The Forest Service provides a technical specialist to assist the District of Columbia under its authority.
The mission of the Natural Resources Conservation Service is to provide assistance to protect natural resources in urban and rural communities. The Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1935 (P.L. 7446), the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act of 1954 (P.L. 83566), the Food Security Act of 1985 (P.L. 99198) other laws provide the authority for the direct assistance NRCS provides to the District of Columbia.
The Agricultural Research Service is responsible for operating the National Arboretum, located in the District of Columbia. The arboretum provides an ideal environment for District of Columbia residents to learn about urban forests and related natural resources. P.L. 69799 established the National Arboretum and authorizes the assistance it provides.
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Food assistance programs in the District of Columbiaincluding the Food Stamp Program; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; the Summer Food Service Program; and the National School Lunch Programoperate under the authority of the Food Stamp Act of 1977, the Child Nutrition Act of 1966, and the National School Lunch Act.
While the USDA plan is relatively new, it does not create any new programs; instead, it coordinates USDA's existing programs to meet the strategic objective of assisting the District of Columbia. You should also be aware that much of the funding provided under the plan thus far is being used to leverage contributions from community organizations through the challenge cost-share component of the plan, whereby funding and in-kind contributions from local groups may be matched by Federal funds.
You specifically requested an explanation of each of the initiatives that comprise the USDA Plan of Action in the District of Columbia. Each initiative is described in detail in the enclosed copy of the plan. You also expressed a particular interest in an explanation of the statutory and funding authorities used to develop and implement the plan. Those authorities are mentioned above. Further, you requested information concerning the programs to be carried out by the grantees. I am enclosing copies of the proposals submitted by the grantees, as well as the proposals that were disapproved. The funded proposals describe the activities to be carried out by each grantee.
Finally, you requested information concerning all small watershed project applications that are ''on hand'' and any ''redirection'' of the small watershed program. A list of the applications we currently have is enclosed. The applications are separated into groups of active projects and those that are considered inactive. Also enclosed are copies of some guidance concerning the objectives and provisions of the P.L. 83566 programs. The small watershed program has evolved over time to reflect amendments made by Congress to the statute, but significant reductions in the funding level have had the greatest impact on the program. I assure you that the activities undertaken under the small watershed program are consistent with the intent outlined in P.L. 83566.
Page 71 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC USDA is enthusiastic about the opportunity to use its existing programs more efficiently and consistent with the original mission of each program to help the District of Columbia become a city that Americans can be proud to call their capital. Similar responses are being sent to Congressmen Stenholm, Combest, and Dooley.