Federal agencies responsible for fighting wildfires have borrowed so much money from other forest programs that fire-prevention efforts have suffered, according to congressional auditors.
In the past five years, the Forest Service and the Interior Department transferred more than $2.7 billion from other programs because they repeatedly underestimated how much money would be needed to pay for firefighting, the report by the General Accounting Office said.
Because of the frequent borrowing, officials were forced to delay projects to prune some forests of dead trees. Wildfire training courses were also postponed, along with the purchase of firefighting equipment.
The June 2 report by the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, came as no surprise to lawmakers who have complained for years about insufficient funding to fight wildfires.
Sen. Larry E. Craig (R) of Idaho said the report confirms his suspicions that "we are robbing Peter to pay Paul."
"Each year, we are told that the administration's budget request will meet firefighting costs," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) of New Mexico. "Yet each year, the administration's budget request proves inadequate to cover those needs, resulting in the chaos of having to transfer money from one account to another to make up for the shortfall."