US Forest Service issues interim policy direction to make it easier for existing, potential partners--including states, tribes--to work with USFS to achieve mutually beneficial goals; policy will now consider partners' 'valuable contributions' beyond cash

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WASHINGTON , July 22, 2022 (press release) –

Today I am issuing interim policy direction that makes it easier for existing and potential partners to work together with the Forest Service to achieve mutually beneficial goals. Specifically, I am directing broad inclusion of values partners bring to the relationship when determining how and when match requirements in partner agreements are met; removing the policy requirement for “substantial cash contributions;” and identifying a process to reduce, and in some cases waive, match requirements that are not statutorily required.   

For decades, the Forest Service has known we can’t succeed alone. Today, climate-driven stressors and disturbances such as drought, wildland fire, and insect epidemics know no boundaries. Recognizing that we, as land managers and landowners, are all in this together, the Forest Service and our partners have long worked collaboratively across shared landscapes to reach our mutual goals.  

The Forest Service regularly joins with Tribes, states and many other partners to address complex and interconnected issues: working with and through partners is a powerful method for achieving shared goals on National Forest System lands and across management jurisdictions. Partners bring resources, knowledge, networks, skills and capacity that leverage agency resources and better enable us to accomplish impactful work. 

Partnership grants and agreements are a key tool to facilitate this collaboration: the Forest Service currently has more than 3500 partnership agreements reflecting the power of partnership and one of our agency’s core values — interdependence.  

To better enable our work with partners, the Forest Service took a hard look at our grants and agreements process and found that, in some cases, policy requirements for cash matching or substantial cash contributions have impeded expanding work with partners at the scales needed, including for wildfire risk reduction and implementing Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding. In some cases, this has created insurmountable barriers for current and potential partners and Tribes to contribute their expertise and capacity in shared service to the health and resilience of America’s forests and grasslands.   

Therefore, we are taking a number of actions to modernize our approach to partnerships and make partnering with the Forest Service easier, more accessible, and more equitable.  

First, I am directing that all the valuable contributions a partner may bring to our relationship be considered, some of which we may have been overlooked or undervalued in the past. In addition to financial resources, volunteer and other in-kind support, these contributions include access to networks and communities that are underrepresented or underserved or increase social license to support critical work; indigenous traditional ecological knowledge; creativity and innovation for effective public outreach and education; experience in managing work projects; and capabilities for project design and management and for subject matter expertise that complement the skills of agency employees or fills a gap in agency capacity. 

Second, a policy determination from the early 1990s led the Forest Service to require a separate substantial cash contribution from partners when, as part of an agreement, they contract for goods or services from a third party to complete project-based work. We have no statutory requirement for this practice. Therefore, I am ending this requirement effective immediately. 

Third, to live up to one of the agency’s other core values – diversity – I am taking steps to make it easier to partner with Tribal governments and partners who work with underserved communities, in recognition of our trust and treaty obligations to Tribes, our commitment to serving all Americans, and the importance of gaining benefit and knowledge through relationships with communities that have been historically underrepresented in our partnerships.  Consequently, effective immediately, I am waiving policy match requirements (those not required by statute) for all agreements with Tribal governments and creating a process to waive policy match requirements for partners that will serve underserved communities.[1] I also am delegating authority to deputy chiefs, regional foresters and station directors to approve reduced policy match requirements on a case-by-case basis to as low as 5% based on the need and capability of a partner.  

I am also directing that agency staff identify and use flexibility where allowed by statute to apply the intent of this direction to statutory match requirements, including for State and Private Forestry programs and International Programs where appropriate.  A cross-deputy area team consisting of Washington Office and field leadership will help implement this direction and will develop additional guidance and supportive materials in consultation with the Office of the General Counsel.  

Modernizing our approach to partnerships will allow us to accomplish more mission-critical work and better serve all Americans. With additional resources and funding available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, our commitment to confronting the wildfire crisis, and our goal of increasing equitable access and use to all national forest and grassland visitors, it is more important than ever that we welcome more partners with valuable services and contributions into partnership agreements.  

Through the interim policy I established today, we are taking steps to make this possible, while also living up to not only to our agency’s values, but also our responsibilities to taxpayers and the people we serve.  

[1] See Executive Order 13985: Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government. 

 

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