Dear NRA Member:
In March I mailed a letter to many NRA members concerning the scandal over how the Fish and Wildlife Service was managing the two cherished conservation trust funds that sportsmen helped to create. The trust funds are the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration fund (known as the Pittman-Robertson fund) and the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration fund (known as the Dingell-Johnson or Wallop-Breaux fund) both of which channel revenue collected from excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, and fishing tackle to state fish and wildlife agencies for conservation projects. By law, the Service is allowed to use a percentage of those funds to cover overhead costs incurred by its Federal Aid office in managing the two trust funds for the states.
Earlier, the March issue of our magazines carried an article entitled "Betrayal of Trust" that discussed the outcome of Congressional investigations over the Service`s use of these "administrative funds" and the Congressional hearings that were held by NRA Board Member, Congressman Don Young (R-AK) who also chairs the House Committee on Resources. Additionally, the NRA-ILA website under the title "In the Hunter`s Interest" has been carrying an updated story about this issue.
The Director of the Service wrote a letter dated April 10 and has posted it on the Service`s website in response to the tens of thousands of postcards you mailed expressing outrage over how the Service was using the money. There are numerous statements in that letter contradicting what I wrote to you. I have posted a link to Director Clark`s letter on our website along with this response.
The Director`s letter notes that the Government [sic] Accounting Office audited the Service`s Federal Aid program and found management shortcomings, but the letter objects to allegations that these funds were "diverted, abused, stolen, or that any illegality has occurred." What the letter does not tell you is how the General Accounting Office (GAO) characterized those shortcomings in testimony before Congress.
GAO labeled the Federal Aid program, in terms of basic accounting practices to track expenditures, "one of the worst managed programs we have ever encountered." GAO testified that in each area where administrative funds were used, there were problems. These included ineffective management oversight, inadequate internal controls, and inadequate policies and procedures. GAO told the House Resources Committee that these conditions spawned "a culture of permissive spending."
GAO uncovered a system by which the Service used administrative funds to support its own projects. Calling it a "shell game," GAO said that the Service charged the Federal Aid program a disproportionate amount to pay for Service-wide overhead costs (phones, electricity, rent) which freed up money in other departments to pay for projects that the Service could not fund with dollars Congress appropriated. The last bullet point of the Director`s letter states that no trust fund money was used to fund endangered species projects. However, GAO`s testimony revealed that some of the money freed up in this "shell game" was used for the reintroduction of the gray wolf.
The Director`s letter takes offense with my use of the term"slush fund" to describe the Director`s Conservation Fund and the Administrative Grant Program. While I would like to take credit for that term, it was first used by the Chairman and other members of the House Resources Committee to describe the Conservation Fund that was created without Congressional authorization. By law, funds in excess of administrative overhead are to be made available to the states. Early in the Clinton Administration, the then-Director created the Conservation Fund that used excess administrative funds to pay for conservation-related projects at the Director`s discretion, without input from the states or the sportsmen whose money it is.
Another program called the Administrative Grant Program was created in the previous administration to fund projects that would benefit the majority of the states, but was allowed to continue in spite of objections raised by organizations like the NRA over the legality of the program. Furthermore, the GAO testified that the administrative funds had been used to pay for relocation costs of employees, foreign travel, and other expenses not attributed to the cost of directly managing the funds as the law requires.
I leave it to you, the NRA member, to decide if GAO`s testimony before the House Resources Committee revealed spending by the Service that can accurately be characterized as diversion, abuse, theft and use of a "slush fund.".
Although the Director`s letter states that the Service is working diligently with its partners in the "States and conservation community to address these" shortcomings, no organization including the NRA was invited to the table when the Service organized a review team with the state wildlife agencies to look at reform measures. It was only after the NRA and other organizations like the National Wildlife Federation took issue with the closed-door approach of the Service that conservation organizations were invited by the states, not by the Service, to provide comments on the proposed reforms.
With respect to the issue of using the Administrative Grant Program to fund an animal rights project, the Service is correct in that no funds were awarded for such a purpose and no employee was fired for refusing to approve such a grant. What I did say, which is true, is that there were attempts by high ranking Service employees to pressure a Federal Aid employee to find such a proposal eligible for funding and upon refusal to do so, the employee was subjected to an adverse personnel action. The information in my letter to you was taken directly from the testimony presented to the House Resources Committee by the affected employee.
The Director`s letter is correct in stating that no Duck Stamp money was spent to buy a remote Pacific Island. What the letter does not say is that it was the Service`s intent to do so until Congressman John Dingell (D-Mich) stepped in to stop the wasteful expenditure of sportsmen`s dollars. That issue, including the letter Congressman Dingell sent to the Secretary of the Interior warning that "he and other Democrats" would "vigorously oppose" the purchase, was mentioned in my "Betrayal of Trust" article. Just because the proposal later failed, does not exonerate the Service from attempting to misuse the sportsmen`s funds.
The Director challenges the statement that millions of administrative fund dollars are unaccounted for because the amount diverted is "0." The GAO testified that there were millions of dollars that could not be accounted for. The Service`s response before the House Resources Committee was that the problem was not in money lost, but in the reconciliation of records due to a change in the accounting system. The Service advised Chairman Young that it would have the accounts reconciled by the end of the calendar year, 1999. To date, there has been no report from the Service that the remaining "lost" money has been reduced to "0."
The NRA is in agreement with the Director that the trust funds are highly successful and that it is important to address these issues with constructive solutions. At no time has the NRA suggested that its members withdraw their support from the trust funds or that the laws be abolished. Rather, we all recognize the tremendous support that these excise tax dollars have provided to wildlife and fish conservation at the state level. That is why we threw our support wholeheartedly behind Congressman Young`s bill, H.R. 3671, which makes reforms in the way the Service manages the trust funds.
The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs Improvement Act passed the House April 5 by a vote of 423 to 2. The overwhelming bipartisan support for the bill validates the findings of GAO`s audit and other investigations and voices strong approval for reforms to be made through the legislative process. Unfortunately, the Department of the Interior (DOI) has offered only lukewarm support to the bill, despite the Director`s comment that the Service was working with Congressman Young on passing this legislation.
In summary, the Director`s letter indicates that the DOI and FWS remain in denial over many aspects of the issues raised by the Congressional hearings and the GAO audit and continue to defend the indefensible -- truly an ongoing "betrayal of trust."
James Jay Baker
ILA Executive Director
(Link no longer active)U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark`s Letter to NRA members
For more information see the article written by ILA Executive Director Jim Baker entitled "Betrayal of Trust"that appeared in the March issue of the American Hunter.
For copies of testimony from the hearings and for Committee press releases, log on to the House Resources Committeewebsite.
For a copy of the bill log onto the Library of Congress web site and search for H.R. 3671.