Wildlife Services: Leaked Audit Shows Fiscal Confusion
Posted January 6, 2014 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places
An unreleased, internal audit at USDA's secretive Wildlife Services division uncovered big accounting problems, including $12 million missing from its coffers, the LA Times revealed yesterday. This new information comes as USDA's Inspector General prepares to conduct a congressionally-requested audit of the agency's practices.
The Times reports that
The [internal Wildlife Services] audit found the agency's accounting practices were "unreconcilable," lacked transparency and violated state and federal laws. Further, the audit revealed that $12 million in a special account could not be found.*
On the one hand, this internal review is a responsible first step. For years, non-profit watchdogs and members of Congress have been trying to untangle Wildlife Services' opaque funding stream. We know that a combination of federal tax dollars and payments directly from special interests like Big Agriculture enables USDA's Wildlife Services division to kill hundreds of thousands of wild animals each year. But the agency has consistently resisted explaining how, exactly, it spends its budget, and who actually benefits from expensive tactics like shooting wolves from helicopters.
But on the other hand--why the continued secrecy? Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, a long-time critic of Wildlife Services, has repeatedly been in contact with the agency about funding details. Yet he had to hear about the internal audit from the LA Times.
"The last time I tried to get more specific financial information, they just blew me off and said they couldn't provide that," DeFazio said in an interview. "Yet, at the same time, they were undertaking this audit. So, the managers were, at best, disingenuous, and at worst, undertaking a coverup."
Wildlife Services told the Times that "the agency [has] already begun to carry out changes recommended in the audit." Of course, Wildlife Services has released neither the audit results, nor a plan to remedy any failures identified. The public release of this information would be a laudable step towards improving the agency's fiscal transparency.
Sacramento Bee reporter and Wildlife Services watchdog Tom Knudson has posted a leaked copy of the audit here. We'll be taking a closer look at what it reveals about government wildlife killing in future posts.
*The leaked audit's conclusions about Wildlife Services' cost-benefit analysis problems echo those of an NRDC-commissioned report released in 2012. Our report found that "most economic analyses of predator control done by Wildlife Services ...are inconsistent with economic analysis guidelines used by most federal agencies," and often contain fundamental accounting errors.
Upon its release in 2012, NRDC shared this report with the director of USDA-Wildlife Services and expressed our interest in discussing the results and recommendations with agency staff. Wildlife Services hasn't yet taken us up on this offer, but it still stands.
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