U.S. Forest Service plans to bill Alabama Forestry Commission US$5.12M relating to spending from a US$17.3M share of a federal grant; state forester says commission owes nothing, attributes action to misunderstanding of grant accounting procedure

LOS ANGELES , July 13, 2012 () –

The U.S. Forest Service is about to bill the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) for US$5.12 million for unsubstantiated spending from its $17.3 million share of funding from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, reported The Tuscaloosa News on July 13.

A review of the AFC’s transactions from Oct. 1, 2008 to April 27, 2011 reduced the bill to $5.12 million from $14.4 million initially owed, according to a June 29 letter from Forest Service CFO Thelma J. Strong to Alabama Forester Linda Casey.

Casey said a misunderstanding of Alabama’s grant accounting procedure had led to the . said the federal action s a result of the U.S. Forest Service’s

“We don’t owe anything,” said Casey, The Tuscaloosa News reported.

The crux of the problem appears to be the state’s accounting system. The process used by the AFC to perform the cost allocation process was “complicated and convoluted” and “difficult to follow,” according to a consultant hired by the commission.

The consultant, Maximus Consulting Services Inc., found in conducting a limited review of the cost allocation method that it substantially and appropriately followed federal guidelines, The Tuscaloosa News reported.

The state should not have to pay because its accounting system disagrees with federal auditors, said AFC member Don Heath, a former chairman, on July 11. “This is not about misappropriating money,” he said.

Auditing issues were addressed last month by James E. Hubbard, Forest Service deputy chief for state and private forestry, said Heath, reported The Tuscaloosa News.

Hubbard said that the audits did not indicate any “fraud or waste” and the Forest Service “knew the work was completed; it was an accounting issue that needed to be figured out in most cases,” according to the minutes of the Southern Group of State Foresters.

In July 2007, a cooperative management review with the Forest Service indicated that Alabama needed to evaluate its federal grant procedures to get on a “level playing field” with other Southern states, The Tuscaloosa News reported.

Not complying with the Office of Inspector General’s findings could lead to the loss of future grants, the federal agency said. This is already happening, said Heath. The Forest Service is holding up $6 million, said AFC’s general counsel Tim Conway.

Other legal steps could also be taken against the state, reported The Tuscaloosa News.

The primary source of this article is The Tuscaloosa News, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on July 13, 2012.

 

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