The General Accounting Office, in an unusually detailed report, has discovered the kind of bureaucratic morass in the federal oversight of fish and wildlife resources that makes government incomprehensible. Both the Interior and Agriculture departments have responsibilities in this area, as do competing agencies within Interior, and their interests often conflict. "The National Park Service emphasizes preservation and recreation," GAO said. "The Forest Service traditionally looks after commodity-type resources such as timber, and the Bureau of Land Management stresses resource uses with economic value, such as livestock grazing and mineral development."

The way it works today, the understaffed Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to give advice to other federal agencies on fish and wildlife matters, but responds to only about half of the requests, almost never follows up its recommendations, and, worst of all, has no priority system for deciding which issues should be answered and which ignored. GAO recommended the service be declared the lead agency for wildlife that migrate across federal lands. Nobody else wants to go along with that, according to the GAO report. ("What people outside government don't understand," an OMB type said one day at a long lunch with reporters, "is that bureaucrats will kill for turf.") (GAO Report CED-81-107; Aug. 24 1981)