- Appendix A. Review of the BPA Reimbursable Account Programs in the Columbia River Basin as Requested in the Senate-House Conference Report on Fiscal Year 1999 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill (document ISRP 99-1).
- Appendix B. Executive Summary and Background of the Report and Recommendations of the Northwest Power Planning Council upon Review of the Corps of Engineers' Columbia River Fish Mitigation Program (document 99-5).
The Conference Report to the Fiscal Year 1999 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act (H.Rept. 105-749) directed the Northwest Power Planning Council and its Independent Scientific Review Panel to review annually "the Columbia Basin fish and wildlife projects, programs, or measures proposed in a Federal agency budget to be reimbursed by the Bonneville Power Administration." The conferees directed the Independent Scientific Review Panel (Panel) to complete its review by April 1 of each year and the Northwest Power Planning Council (Council) to submit a report to the appropriations and authorizing committees in Congress by May 15 of each year.
Congress asked the Panel to review reimbursable programs to determine if they were consistent with the criteria included in section 4(h)(10)(D) of the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act as amended in 1996. Those criteria require the Panel to determine if fish and wildlife proposals are "based on sound science principles; benefit fish and wildlife, and have a clearly defined objective and outcome with provisions for monitoring and evaluation of results." The Panel is to include in its report to the Council "any recommendations that the Panel considers appropriate to make the project, program, or measure meet the criteria."
The Council is to make the panel's report and recommendations available for public review and comment. The Council is then to "fully consider" the panel's recommendation when making its final recommendations to Congress on the reimbursable projects. If the Council does not incorporate a recommendation of the Panel, the Council must explain its reasons in writing.
This is the first year the Panel reviewed reimbursable programs. Because the Council, the relevant federal agencies, and the Panel had little time to organize the review this year, the Panel concluded it would be impossible to do the kind of review necessary to offer specific substantive recommendations relating to funding. The panel's report and recommendations focused instead on how to structure the review process in future years. A copy of the panel's report is attached as Appendix A. The Council's report also focuses on recommendations for how to conduct the review process next year and subsequent years.
Other Substantive Reviews
The fact that the panel's report and the Council's recommendations focus on how to conduct a thorough review in the future does not mean the Council or its independent scientific bodies have ignored the substantive issues underlying the reimbursable programs. The panel's report and the Council's recommendations should be viewed in the context of other Congressionally directed and Council-sponsored reviews.
The first is the Council's recently completed Report and Recommendations UponReview of the Corps of Engineers' Columbia River Fish Mitigation Program (April 1999). The Corps? Columbia River Fish Mitigation Program consists largely of capital modifications to the mainstem Columbia and Snake dams to improve fish passage. Those modifications are paid for with Congressional appropriations and reimbursed by Bonneville, forming a large part of the reimbursable programs. Congress asked the Council to review the program in 1997. The Council's Independent Scientific Advisory Board (which overlaps with the Panel) played an essential role in preparing the report.
The report includes recommendations to the Corps and Congress designed to improve planning and financing for fish passage improvements at the mainstem Columbia and Snake dams. The report also includes recommendations to the Corps and other regional entities on biological and policy considerations that should be central to decision making. Finally, the report also provides recommendations to Congress on specific funding priorities. The Council's recommendations from this report are included as Appendix B.
The second Council-sponsored review, also called for by Congress, involves federally-funded artificial fish production projects, which make up another large component of the reimbursable budget. The Artificial Production Review, as it is known in the region, will create formal recommendations for a coordinated policy for the future operation of federally funded hatcheries.
Finally, the National Marine Fisheries Service recently issued a Biological Opinion on Columbia River Artificial Production. That opinion took a thorough look at the artificial production programs paid for through the reimbursable account. The opinion provided specific mandates and recommendations for changes in hatchery operations, including making a jeopardy finding regarding the effect of, among other programs, the reimbursable Lower Snake River Compensation Plan activities on listed Snake steelhead, and recommending reasonable and prudent alternatives.
These reviews and reports will or already have produced substantive recommendations for Congress regarding reimbursable programs this year. They also will provide valuable insights for future reviews.
Background on Reimbursable Programs
The panel's report summarizes the scope and function of the reimbursable programs. The Council's report will not duplicate that description. It is important to understand, however, that funding procedures for major reimbursable programs have changed in recent years.
In 1996 and 1997, Bonneville signed Memoranda of Understanding with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of the Army, respectively, to directly fund operation and maintenance of the federal hydropower projects. Bonneville sought the agreements to expedite necessary maintenance at the dams. But these agreements also encompass the reimbursable operations and maintenance expenses for the fish and wildlife projects paid for by the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. For the Corps, this includes the operation of fish facilities at the dams, the hatcheries in the lower Columbia, Willamette, and Clearwater rivers, and wildlife mitigation. For the Bureau, it includes the Leavenworth Hatchery complex.
Congressional appropriations, the majority of which are reimbursed by Bonneville, continue to pay for capital construction and research projects for mainstem fish passage improvements at Corps dams. Reimbursed appropriations also fund the United States Fish and Wildlife Service's Lower Snake River Compensation Plan. The Fish and Wildlife Service and Bonneville are discussing direct funding of that program.
The federal agencies also signed a Memorandum of Agreement in 1996 memorializing Bonneville's fish and wildlife budget commitment to provide an average of $40 million for annual reimbursable operating costs and another $100 million annually for direct funded projects until 2002. An annex to that agreement described how the federal reimbursable programs would provide budget information to ensure that the region's non-federal agencies and tribes would have adequate opportunity to comment to Congress on reimbursable budgets. This information sharing provision of the agreement was complicated by the subsequent direct funding agreements, and has not been completely implemented. However, these provisions will be important to remember as Congress considers the panel's and the Council's recommendations.
The panel's Recommendations
The Panel made four specific recommendations regarding future reviews of the reimbursable portion of Bonneville's fish and wildlife mitigation budget:
- All reimbursable projects should be evaluated using the criteria and specifications used to review direct-funded programs. Specifically, proposals, deadlines and other requirements should be consistent with those for direct-funded programs.
- A staggered annual schedule should be established that prevents a conflict between the timing of the reimbursable review and the review of direct-funded projects.
- The Corps of Engineers, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Reclamation should provide an inventory of research-related and operations and maintenance projects to facilitate planning for future reviews.
- A subcommittee of the Panel should work with Council staff to develop a detailed plan for the review to be carried out in 2000.
The Council's recommendations, in response to the panel's report, are described below. The recommendations focus on incorporating an annual independent scientific review of reimbursable programs into federal program planning, funding and implementation. As noted above, the Council has or will address substantive issues presented by major portions of the reimbursable programs in separate reviews this year.
1. The reimbursable project review should be timed and organized so the Panel has adequate time and resources for a thorough review of the reimbursable programs and Bonneville's direct fish and wildlife program projects.
The Panel expressed concern that maintaining the current schedule for the reimbursable programs poses a serious problem in allowing the Panel and the Council to provide a quality review of both the direct and reimbursable programs. The Council recommends that the review of reimbursable programs be designed to avoid conflicts with other reviews. The Panel recommended moving its annual reimbursables review to the second half of the year, so that it would not overlap or conflict with the panel's direct program review in the first half of the year as called for in the Power Act amendment. However, this recommendation raises problems in two particular areas:
(1) The current congressional report language requires the review of reimbursable programs to be completed on April 1 of each year. This deadline is tied to the schedule for the congressional appropriations process, which the panel's and the Council's report is intended to inform. A review by the Panel and the Council in the fall would be too late to provide useful information for that year's congressional budget decisions.
(2) Federal budget procedures limit access to program budget information until the President's budget is submitted to Congress in January or February, which would make it difficult for the Panel and the Council to review the next year's budget proposals in the fall and early winter.
To address this situation, the Council suggests establishing separate types of scientific review for the distinct categories of reimbursable programs. In addition, the Council makes the following recommendations:
1a. Reimbursable projects relating to artificial fish production and wildlife mitigation should be reviewed during the review of direct program projects.
The Council recommends that proposals for reimbursable expenditures related to the Lower Snake River Compensation Plan, the hatcheries funded as part of the Corps? fish mitigation activities, and the Bureau of Reclamation's Leavenworth hatchery complex be integrated into the review of direct program production projects. The Council recommends the same thing for the Corps? reimbursable expenditures for wildlife mitigation.
If this integration were to occur, the Panel would not deliver its report and recommendations until June 15, and the Council would not complete its final recommendations on these projects until September. Even so, in its annual mid-May report to Congress, the Council would explain what the Panel and the Council recommended in the past year on those parts of the budget. The reimbursable artificial production programs do not change significantly from year-to-year. Consequently, the review could have the same impact as a review on the current schedule.
The Council would make this recommendation even if there were not a timing problem. It makes sense to bring all the production programs together in one independent scientific review. For example, the reimbursable programs in the tributaries of the Snake River include the Corps-funded Dworshak hatchery in the Clearwater and the Lower Snake River Compensation Plan hatcheries in various subbasins. Direct program projects implementing the Council's Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program also include artificial production programs in the same subbasins. The direct program also funds a significant number of wildlife mitigation programs that overlap with the Corps? wildlife mitigation projects. These programs, and the region's ratepayers, would benefit from a more coordinated scientific review.
In addition, the expenses for the Corps and Bureau hatcheries and for Corps wildlife mitigation are directly funded by Bonneville, even though they remain in the agency's "reimbursable" account. To facilitate this change, the Council recommends that the Bonneville Power Administration and the Fish and Wildlife Service enter into a direct funding agreement for the Lower Snake River Compensation Plan program, which would bring all of the reimbursable hatchery programs into the same direct funding relationship.
1b. Projects relating to the Corps of Engineers? research should be reviewed at the end of the calendar year as described below.
As described in the panel's report, every year the Corps funds a number of research projects out of the reimbursable account, most relate to mainstem fish passage issues. Part of the money spent on these projects comes from the Corps? operations and maintenance budget. A larger part comes from the Corps? general construction budget.
The best time for the review of the research program would be at the end of the calendar year. At that time, the research plans for the next spring/summer/fall research season would be reviewed. This would be after the Corps? appropriations for that year had been enacted, so the Corps would know the amount of research money it had to work with. For example, a Panel review at the end of calendar year 2000 would focus on research proposals for the 2001-research season. Projects for that season would be paid for with money appropriated for Fiscal Year 2001.
This recommendation may provide the most value to the program because every fall the Corps and other participants evaluate research results, formulate workplans for the next season, learn what the budget amount for research will be, and then evaluate and prioritize proposals for the coming research season. The Corps then makes the final decisions and signs the contracts around the beginning of the calendar year. The Council's recommendation would insert the Panel and Council reviews after proposals are developed and prioritized into an overall package against a set budget, but before the Corps makes its final decisions.
If this procedure is implemented, the Council, in the annual mid-May report to Congress, would explain what the Panel and the Council recommended in the past year on the research part of the budget. Those recommendations and projections for the next year could be used during the appropriations process.
1c. The Council and the Corps of Engineers should organize the review of the Corps? mainstem implementation and major study budget to allow for optimum review by the Panel and the Council and to provide the information needed by the Congress and the Corps to make decisions.
The third part of the reimbursable program consists of the capital investments in fish passage projects and the major design/prototype testing studies that are part of the Corps? Columbia River Fish Mitigation Program. Examples of the former are the decisions to construct the Bonneville Dam juvenile bypass out-fall, or to install extended-length screens or flip lips at dams. Examples of the latter include the study/prototype phase that the surface collector program is in, the prototype testing of extended-length screens at the John Day Dam, the study of alternative passage improvements at Bonneville's First Powerhouse, and the Lower Snake River feasibility study.
The projects in this category are the most visible items in the Corps? Columbia River fish and wildlife budget and in the reimbursable programs as a whole. They are the budget items that are expensive and often controversial. This program is subject to review and prioritization in the region by the System Configuration Team, and was the subject of a recent review by the Council and its Independent Scientific Advisory Board. See Appendix B.
The Council considered three different ways to structure the review of the passage improvement construction/study program while addressing the panel's concerns about their capacity to conduct such a review.
(1) The first approach would leave the review of these projects on the current schedule set by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. To provide the Panel with the needed expertise, and to reduce the burden on the panel's current members, the Council recommends that the size of the Panel be expanded by allowing the Council to appoint two or three new members with the capability to review mainstem projects. Rather than increasing the number of members on the Panel, which might require an amendment to the Northwest Power Act, the budget of the Panel could be increased to provide for an additional peer review group (authorized under the Act) with the needed expertise. The Council is concerned that the panel's current budget may not be adequate to cover a thorough review of the reimbursable program even if the schedule is changed and the existing members are used.
If the review schedule is not changed and no additional financial resources are available to augment the Panel, the Council strongly recommends that the federal agencies should assist the Panel in completing basic information gathering, analysis and review before the end of the calendar year. The regional federal agencies have cooperated with the Council and the Panel in providing what information they can, but as described below, the agencies are constrained in how much information they can provide. The Council and the agencies should work together to develop an arrangement to obtain information needed for the review at an earlier time. The early assistance from the federal agencies would help ensure a thorough and timely product. Without that assistance or additional personnel or financial resources, the quality of the review may suffer.
(2) The second possible approach would change the deadline for completing the review from April 1 to a date in the fall or early winter. The Panel recommended this approach. Under this scenario, the review and recommendations would inform the budget recommendation the Administration would propose after the turn of the year. Changing the date would help distribute the panel's workload. The revised schedule also would offer value to the Administration by providing independent review during the development of its budget recommendations to Congress.
The Council recommends this change only if the relevant agencies are able to provide adequate budget and project information on a timely basis given current federal budget procedures. As noted, the regional offices of the federal agencies have fully cooperated with the Panel and Council in providing the project and budget information they are allowed to provide. But the agencies are constrained by federal budget procedures from offering specific information about what will be proposed for the programs in the Administration's budget until the entire budget is released by the Administration -- too late for a Panel review earlier than March. The point of the recommendation is to allow the Panel and the Council to conduct an earlier review by providing more and better budget information in the fall and early winter, as the regional agencies and then the central offices are preparing their budget requests.
In the Annex to the Bonneville fish and wildlife funding Memorandum of Agreement, the federal executives at the cabinet level have committed to "shar[ing] the greatest amount of federal budget information possible in a timely fashion." This is to allow the Council and other regional participants "to fully participate in the Bonneville fish and wildlife budget management and allocation processes" so budget requests from the regional federal agencies are made "in a manner consistent" with recommendations from a regional review process. For the review to work in the fall/early winter, the Panel and Council would need hard information about what reimbursable programs are being proposed in the Administration's budget.
(3) The third approach would shift the Panel and Council review away from the annual budget cycle and direct it instead toward important decision points for the Corps. That is, Panel and Council review would be inserted before the Corps makes a decision to initiate a major study, at critical midpoints in a study, and before final implementation decisions. This kind of review could occur at any time of the year. The Council would then, in its mid-May report to Congress, report on the results of any such reviews in the previous year and provide funding recommendations to Congress based on what was learned.
One reason to make this change is the fact that the Corps? budget request each year for construction and major studies is composed mostly of on-going projects. Even in this situation there could be some value in an annual review of the budget package, but the focus would likely be primarily on new projects included in the budget. If the point of the review is to provide insight to the Congress and the Corps before major investment decisions are made, it makes more sense to shift the review process to before the Corps makes these decisions and places the items in the budget.
A variation on this approach would be to arrange with the Corps to allow the Panel to review tentatively proposed projects 15 months or so in advance ? e.g., in the fall of 1999, the Panel would look at any project being considered for possible implementation in the spring of 2001. Such a review process might take place in two steps: first a review of the basic concept underlying a possible proposed project more than a year in advance; second a review of detailed implementation plans for selected projects in the fall before implementation.)
If a shift of this type were made, the Corps of Engineers and other participants in the region's System Configuration Team would need to develop a firm schedule of when these decision points will occur so the Panel and the Council could plan their workloads. Under this scenario, the Council would still prepare a mid-May report to Congress, and it would still make recommendations to Congress on the Corps budget based on whatever review occurred prior to Congressional decision-making.
Although this approach is not directly connected to the congressional budget cycle, we believe it offers the best opportunity for the Panel to provide substantive recommendations to the relevant federal agencies. In addition, the Council would still provide an annual report to Congress in mid-May. Any relevant information produced by the reviews would be made available at that time.
2. The federal agencies should provide thorough, accurate information to facilitate scientific review using criteria consistent with the review of direct program projects.
The Panel recommended that reimbursable program descriptions and criteria for review be consistent with the project descriptions and review criteria used for the direct program. The proposal format in the direct program was developed collaboratively by Bonneville, Council staff, the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority and the Independent Scientific Review Panel. The proposal format collects information for use by each of these entities and supports scientific peer review. The Panel has repeatedly urged that projects use the project proposal guidelines developed by the Scientific Review Group (SRG) in 1985. Those guidelines are distributed with project proposal forms in Bonneville's direct funded project selection process.
The Council concurs with the panel's recommendation. The Council will work with the relevant federal agencies to improve the existing proposal form so the federal agencies will be able to provide the Panel information consistent with the SRG guidelines for project proposals. The information collected also will be consistent with the information collected about direct program projects.
3. The Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation should create an annual inventory of reimbursable research and operations and maintenance projects.
The Council concurs with the panel's recommendation that the Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation create an annual inventory of reimbursable research and operations and maintenance projects. This recommendation is intended to streamline the independent scientific review process. Many ongoing operation and maintenance projects may not warrant annual independent scientific review. A number of ongoing research and monitoring projects likely will fall into the same category. The federal agencies should work with the Council to create an annual inventory of reimbursable projects appropriate for scientific evaluation. If there is a dispute about the appropriateness of scientific review for a particular project, the Council recommends that the project be subjected to such a review.
4. The federal agencies, the Council and the Panel should develop a detailed plan for future annual reviews of reimbursable programs.
The Council believes this recommendation must move forward as soon as possible. The plan must create an annual reimbursable review that provides what the Congress, the Council and the federal agencies need in terms of scientific review while also allowing the Panel adequate time to review the direct program. The Council recommends that the appropriate federal agencies participate in a work group with the Panel and the Council to develop the plan.
Consistent with the original Congressional direction calling for the Council to initiate an annual review of the Bonneville Power Administration's reimbursable fish and wildlife programs, the Council will forward a report to Congress on May 15th of each year. The report will be based on the findings of the Independent Scientific Review panel's reviews of 1) the reimbursable artificial production and wildlife mitigation projects, 2) the Corps of Engineer's research program relating to fish passage at its mainstem Columbia and Snake river dams, and 3) the Corps? capital construction activities associated with its Columbia River Fish Mitigation Program.
The reviews will be staggered throughout the year to ensure that the Panel has adequate time and resources for a thorough examination of the programs and projects. The artificial production and wildlife mitigation projects will be reviewed in the spring and summer, concurrent with the annual review of Bonneville's direct program expenditures. The review of the Corps? research program will occur in the late fall, near the end of the calendar year. The review the Corps? capital construction program would occur prior to any significant decision to initiate a major study, at critical midpoints in a study, and before final implementation decisions. This kind of review could occur at any time during the year. The Council will review the panel's recommendations pertaining to each issue area and make its final recommendations in its annual, May 15th, report.
The Council recognizes that this year's recommendations do not address specific project funding questions. However, the Council believes these procedural recommendations, if implemented, will allow the Panel to help the Council, the federal agencies and the Congress make the best possible decisions on fish and wildlife spending, instead of simply allowing for criticism of the projects once they are proposed and poised for implementation.
Appendix A. Review of the BPA Reimbursable Account Programs in the Columbia River Basin as Requested in the Senate-House Conference Report on Fiscal Year 1999 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill (document ISRP 99-1).
Appendix B. Executive Summary and Background of the Report and Recommendations of the Northwest Power Planning Council upon Review of the Corps of Engineers' Columbia River Fish Mitigation Program (document 99-5).