By now, most of you will have heard that the White House Office of Management and Budget has released the President’s Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2021. Each year, release of the President’s budget request begins the annual process of budget hearings and negotiations, leading to congressional action in late summer or fall and a budget for the next fiscal year. This is only the beginning, and much could change between this request and what gets approved by Congress.
This year, the President’s budget proposes to cut funding for Research and Development by 25%, including the administrative consolidation of two research stations and the elimination of some research programs. The cuts to some parts of our R&D portfolio are intended to strengthen our research related to forest products, fire and fuels, and forest inventory and analysis, which are core competencies for the Forest Service. The President’s Budget also proposes zeroing out several State and Private Forestry programs as well as International Programs, the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and programs related to land acquisitions and exchanges.
Every year, proposed and enacted changes to our budgets affect some of us, both professionally and personally, and they affect all of us in terms of our collective ability to care for the land and serve people. We are all in this together, and I always see the start of our annual budgetary process as an occasion to reflect on who we are as an agency, because that won’t change.
Let’s start with our mission of sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Our work at the Forest Service supports nature in sustaining all life. We are committed to supporting nature and sustaining life across the nation’s forests and grasslands, from Alaska and Hawaii to Florida and Puerto Rico. Using and enjoying the National Forest System is the birthright of every American across the United States. That is a rock-solid part of who we are as an agency.
We can support nature in sustaining life only if we ground our management practices in sound science. Our Research and Development mission area is actually older than our National Forest System mission area, although both mission areas are now inseparable. It is a reminder of how interdependent we are as an agency, whether we are researchers, practitioners, fire managers, administrators, technicians or anything else. We are all in this together.
In supporting nature to sustain life, we are committed to achieving certain outcomes across watersheds and landscapes for the benefit of the people we serve—outcomes that have long been part of our cultural DNA as Americans. Our visionary founders, leaders like Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt, were hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts who sought to protect and sustain America’s native wildlife and who embraced opportunities for outdoor recreation on national forests and grasslands. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Today, outdoor recreation—often bound up with activities related to fish and wildlife, such as hunting, fishing and bird-watching—is the single largest use of the National Forest System and the largest source of jobs and economic opportunities for the people we serve.
Accordingly, our stewardship responsibilities extend by law, whether in the Multiple Use‒Sustained Yield Act of 1960 or in the National Forest Management Act of 1976, to outdoor recreation as well as to habitat for native fish and wildlife. Our obligations as land managers extend to entire ecosystems, entire communities of plants and animals in all their complexity, taking into account all of their interdependencies. To succeed, we need to find innovative ways for practitioners and researchers to work together to achieve outcomes on the land: healthy, resilient forests and grasslands for people to use and enjoy. Again, we are all in this together.
Please remember that the President’s budget request is the starting point in a budgetary process that will last through much of the year, with many twists and turns ahead. Every administration has priorities and fiscal constraints, and a budget proposal is one way of communicating them to Congress.
Then Congress considers the President’s budget in view of its own set of priorities and fiscal constraints. The period of congressional deliberation starts when I am called to testify at congressional budget hearings. Following the hearings, congressional committees work with the administration and the Forest Service to better understand our needs, capacity and constraints.
The process ends when Congress appropriates funds. Each chamber will have its own views, and after negotiations, they will come to final agreement on funding decisions. Only then do we finally understand how much Congress’s priorities and intent align with an administration’s.
Between now and then, much could change. In the meantime, as Forest Service employees, our job continues to be caring for the land and serving people by doing the work we already have planned and funded for this fiscal year.