Legislative Analyst's Office

Analysis of the 2000-01 Budget Bill
Department of Fish and Game (3600)

The Department of Fish and Game (DFG) administers programs and enforces laws pertaining to the fish, wildlife, and natural resources of the state. The Fish and Game Commission sets policies to guide the department in its activities and regulates fishing and hunting. The DFG currently manages about 850,000 acres including ecological reserves, wildlife management areas, hatcheries, and public access areas throughout the state.

The budget proposes total DFG expenditures of $228 million from various sources. Of that amount, $225.8 million is for support and $2.5 million is for local assistance. The proposed 2000-01 budget is an overall increase of about $6.6 million (3 percent) from the estimated current-year level.

Major budget proposals include: (1) $18.2 million for planning, monitoring, and implementing salmon and habitat restoration projects related to the CALFED Bay Delta program; (2) $2.7 million for support of the Natural Community Conservation Planning program; (3) $2.1 million for administering anticipated federal funding for salmon restoration and assisting local watershed planning efforts; and (4) $2 million for North Coast watershed assessments. (Please see the Crosscutting Issues section for a discussion of the North Coast watershed assessment proposal.)

Coastal Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Proposal Lacks Details

The budget proposal does not provide details on how the administration plans to spend anticipated federal money for salmon restoration. Without that information, it is not possible to substantiate the staff positions requested. We recommend the adoption of budget bill language to restrict the availability and use of $1 million (General Fund) for these staff positions until (1) a statute is enacted authorizing and defining the program and specifying the use of the federal funds, and (2) a staffing estimate is provided to the Legislature which is based on the enacted program.

The budget requests $1 million (General Fund) and 14 personnel-years to administer federal grants to improve salmon populations in 2000-01. The department expects to receive $9 million in federal funds for these grants some time in early 2000.

Intent of Legislature for Program Oversight Is Clear. Originally, the department expected to receive the federal funds much sooner and had requested authority to expend the funds in the current year. The Legislature, concerned with the lack of definition of the federal grant program, acted to ensure its involvement with the program by adopting budget bill language in the 1999-00 budget that requires a statute be enacted authorizing and defining the program and specifying the use of the federal funds before any federal money can be expended.

Proposal Still Offers No Program Specifics; Legislature Cannot Assess Staff Workload. To date, the expected federal funds have not been received. The DFG now expects $9 million to be available some time this spring and is requesting staff support to administer the federal grants in 2000-01. However, the budget does not provide any details on the grant program the proposed staff will be administering. For example, the budget does not provide details on the eligibility requirements for grants, the size of the grants, technical assistance to be provided to grantees, the environmental review process necessary to make the improvements, the extent of field inspections, or the level of contract monitoring.

The specific details of the program will determine, in large part, the level of staff support required to administer the federally funded grants. For example, the amount of monitoring, environmental review, field checking, and the number and type of grants will all affect staff requirements. Since the proposal does not provide any information on the extent to which these activities occur, the Legislature cannot assess the appropriate level of staffing.

Integration of Federal Grant Program With Existing State-Funded Grant Program Unclear. The department also has not indicated how the federally funded activities for salmon restoration will be integrated with the existing fisheries restoration grant program. For instance, currently DFG carries out salmon restoration projects using state funds. In 2000-01, the budget proposes $8 million from the Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Account for these projects. To the extent that the state and federally funded restoration programs are similar and can be integrated, potential cost efficiencies can be realized by using the same staff for many of the general tasks not related to specific contracts. For example, if the federally funded grant program is closely tied to the existing state grant program, then activities such as public outreach, assisting grant applicants, attending advisory meetings, attending interagency meetings, preparing requests for proposals, and maintaining a database may all be done in conjunction with the existing state grant administration efforts.

Workload Not Matched With Appropriate Position Classification. In addition to the above concerns, our review found the following problems with the proposal. First, the request for permanent positions is not justified. Specifically, the federal funds are expected to be available on a one-time basis. Without multiyear funding secured, permanent positions to administer a program that may only last one year are not justified.

Second, the budget proposes that associate biologists in the regions will complete many contract administration tasks, including the drafting of the contract, contacting applicants, processing requests for payments and amendments to contracts, and resolving contract disputes. Our discussions with biologists currently implementing the state-funded restoration program suggest that while involvement of biologists is essential for technical planning and review activities, many of the administrative tasks can be more appropriately assigned to nonscientific staff.

Recommend Budget Bill Language Be Adopted. We recognize that federal funding is likely to be forthcoming in 2000, and that staff will be needed to administer the grant funds. However, as the Legislature has expressed its intent in the current-year budget, we think the Legislature should play a role in determining how the money is spent. For example, the Legislature can address areas such as the funding allocation process, the grant selection process, and establishing criteria to be used to determine priorities among projects. When the program is defined, DFG can then better estimate its staffing needs.

In order to make certain legislative priorities are considered and that the department is appropriately staffed to implement that program, we recommend the Legislature adopt the following budget bill language:

$1 million shall be available for staff personnel only if the state receives federal funding for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Program. The $1 million and the federal funds shall not be expended until (1) a statute is enacted authorizing and defining the program and specifying the use of the federal funds, and (2) the department has provided the Chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee and the chairs of the fiscal committees of each house with a workload and staffing estimate for administering the program.

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