Northwest Power Planning Council
Staff issue paper/draft of Council report to Congress
The Conference Report to the FY 1999 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act (H.Rept. 105-749) directed the Northwest Power Planning Council and its Independent Scientific Review Panel to conduct a review of the Columbia River Basin fish and wildlife programs which are reimbursed in whole or part 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 Congress by May 15 of each year.
The Panel was directed to review the reimbursable programs to determine their consistency with the scientific criteria included in section 4(h)(10)(D) of the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act as amended in 1996. Under that provision, the Council must respond specifically to the recommendations of the Panel. In the case of this report, the Council interprets its obligations to use the panel's report as the basis for program funding recommendations to the Congress.
This is the first year of the panel's review of the reimbursable programs. Because of the short amount of time the Council, the relevant federal agencies and the Panel had to organize this first review, the panel's reimbursable programs report focuses on how best to structure the review process in future years. This does not mean the Council or its independent scientific bodies have ignored the substantive issues underlying these programs. The panel's reimbursable programs report should be viewed in the context of other reviews in which the Council is participating this year, which are described below and which will or already have produced recommendations to Congress this year on substantive aspects of the reimbursable programs.
The panel's reimbursables program report should also be seen in the context of the panel's on-going role in the Council's annual project-by-project review of Bonneville's directly -funded fish and wildlife program, under the 1996 amendment to the Power Act. One of the panel's principal findings in this report is that the reimbursable programs review should in the future be sequenced with other programmatic reviews to allow the Panel to devote more attention to each program. In this first year's review, for example, the Panel concluded that it would impossible to conduct a review in the detail it deems necessary to offer specific funding recommendations. The Panel identified an alternative work schedule for reviews in future years that, in its opinion, would distribute its workload more efficiently.
In summary, the Panel made four specific recommendations:
- All projects included in the reimbursable review in subsequent years should be evaluated using the criteria and specification used by the Panel to review Bonneville's direct-funded programs. Specifically, project proposal formats, deadlines and other requirements should be made consistent with those used for project review in the direct-funded programs.
- A staggered annual schedule should be agreed upon among Congress, the Council and the Panel such that the reimbursable review occurs annually, in the autumn at a time when it does not conflict with the annual review of the direct-funded process.
- The responsible agencies (Corps of Engineers, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Reclamation) should provide an inventory of research-related and O&M projects.
- 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 staff's proposals for how to respond to the panel's review process recommendations are described below. The staff's recommendations follow those of the Panel, focusing on how an annual independent scientific review of reimbursable programs can be incorporated into federal program planning, funding and implementation.
As noted above, the Council has or will be addressing substantive issues presented by major portions of the reimbursable programs in separate reviews that began in past years for completion in 1999:
The most important of these separate reviews is the just-adopted Council's Report and Recommendations Upon Review of the Corps of Engineers? Columbia River Fish Mitigation Program (April 1999), in which the Council's Independent Scientific Advisory Board (which overlaps with the Panel) played a key role. The Corps? Columbia River Fish Mitigation Program consists largely of capital modifications to the mainstem Columbia and Snake dams to improve fish passage, funded by Congressional appropriations and reimbursed by Congress. In the Council's just-completed comprehensive review of the Corps? capital program, initiated by a request from Congress in 1997, the ISAB and then the Council produced recommendations to the Corps of Engineers and Congress on planning and funding decisions for capital modifications to the mainstem Columbia and Snake dams to improve fish passage. The report includes recommendations to the Corps and other regional entities on biological and policy criteria and considerations that should be central to decision making and recommendations to Congress on specific funding priorities. The Council's recommendations are summarized at the end of this paper.
With regard to the hatcheries funded as part of the reimbursable programs (the Corps-funded hatcheries, the Leavenworth Complex and the Lower Snake River Compensation Plan), the Council's is nearing the end of its comprehensive Artificial Production Review of federally-funded production. The Council's final report, which should be adopted in late June or early July, will include a state of the science report and general recommendations for production policy reform and policy implementation. In addition, the National Marine Fisheries Service has just issued the Biological Opinion for Artificial Production, which took also took a thorough look at the hatchery programs funded through the reimbursable account. The Biological Opinion provided specific mandates and recommendations for changes, including making a jeopardy finding regarding the effect of Lower Snake River Compensation Plan activities on listed Snake steelhead, and recommending reasonable and prudent alternatives. These reviews will also inform future annual evaluations.
The panel's report summarizes the scope and function of the reimbursable programs. The Council's report will not duplicate this description. It is important to understand, however, that the funding procedures for major components of the reimbursable programs have changed in recent years. In 1997, Bonneville signed Memoranda of Understanding with the Department of the Army and the Bureau of Reclamation to directly fund operation and maintenance of the federal hydropower projects. Bonneville sought these agreements to expedite the funding of necessary maintenance at the dams.
These funding agreements encompass the reimbursable fish and wildlife projects funded through the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. For the Corps this includes the operation of fish facilities at the dams, wildlife mitigation and hatcheries. For the Bureau, this includes the Leavenworth Hatchery Complex. Capital construction and research projects for mainstem fish passage improvements at Corps dams remain funded through Congressional appropriations. The Lower Snake River Compensation Plan remains funded through appropriations to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The Fish and Wildlife Service and Bonneville are discussing a similar direct funding memorandum of understanding.
The federal agencies also signed a memorandum of agreement (Fish Funding MOA) to execute the Bonneville fish and wildlife funding agreement established between Congress and the Administration in 1995. This is a six-year commitment of funding based on an average of $40 million for reimbursable operating costs and $100 million for Bonneville's directly funded projects. The Annex to the Fish Funding MOA described how the federal reimbursable programs would provide program budget information to the region to ensure that involved agencies and tribes can comment to Congress on the reimbursable budgets. These provisions have not been completely implemented and were complicated by the subsequent direct funding agreements. However, these provisions will be important to remember when considering the panel's suggestions for staggering the annual independent scientific review process. This is because the schedule for sharing budget planning information could support an annual review earlier in the budget process than occurred this year.
Issues Raised by the panel's Report and Proposed Council Recommendations
1. Use project descriptions and criteria that are consistent with those used for direct program project review.
The Panel recommends that the reimbursable program review process be made consistent with the direct program in terms of the program descriptions and criteria for review. The proposal format in the direct program was developed through collaboration among Bonneville, Council staff, the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority and the Independent Scientific Review Panel. This format collects information for use by each of these entities but serves to support scientific peer review. The Panel has repeatedly urged that projects should use the guidelines for project proposals developed by the Scientific Review Group (SRG) in 1985. This document is distributed with project proposal forms in Bonneville's directly funded project selection process.
Staff recommendation: First, work with the federal agencies to define which reimbursable projects are subject to the annual scientific review. As is discussed with respect to the panel's third recommendation below, there is likely to be some initial disagreement about the whether or not certain projects are suitable for scientific evaluation. Council staff should work with the Panel and the federal agencies to define the list of projects for review and report to the Council on any disagreements in June.
Next, use the Council staff working group (proposed by the Panel in its fourth recommendation, below) to involve the federal agencies in improving the existing proposal form to efficiently collect project information consistent with the SRG guidelines for project proposals. The resulting project proposal form should be consistent with the format used in the direct program while recognizing that not all of the information requested in the direct program proposal form will be relevant to the reimbursable review (such as Council program measure number, Bonneville contracting information, etc.).
2. Sequence of Review
The Panel recommends that the review of the reimbursable programs occur in the fall when the direct program review has been completed, to avoid work load conflicts with other reviews.
For the Council and the Congress this recommendation presents two issues. The first is that the current congressional report language calls for the review of the reimbursable program to be completed on April 1 of each year. This deadline is tied to the schedule for the congressional appropriation process, which the panel's report is intended to inform.
The second issue is whether program details would be available for an earlier review. Federal budget procedures limit access to program budget information until the President's budget is submitted to Congress in January or February.
Staff recommendation: Scheduling the panel's review for a report in the fall or early winter would help distribute the workload for program review. The staff recommends such a procedure if it is administratively practical. This schedule should offer some value to the Administration in developing its budget recommendations to the Congress. This schedule would depend on obtaining adequate project proposals for the panel's review. As noted above in the discussion of the Fish Funding Memorandum of Agreement, the federal executives at the Cabinet level have committed to sharing budget information with the region on an earlier schedule. The Council solicits comment from the federal agencies as to whether or not sufficient information could be provided in advance of the President's budget submittal to Congress. The alternative to the current schedule is a fall-winter review that focuses on the previous year's budget. Maintaining the current schedule poses a serious workload problem, making it difficult to provide a quality review in both the direct program and the reimbursable program.
3. Inventory reimbursable research projects
The Panel recommended that relevant federal agencies develop an inventory of research-related and O&M projects.
Staff recommendation: This recommendation should streamline the scope of projects presented for independent scientific review. The Council should direct its staff to work with the federal agencies on an inventory of projects appropriate for scientific evaluation. There may be debate whether ongoing operation and maintenance may not be appropriate for scientific review but there will be differences of opinion. For example, the operation of reimbursable hatcheries is a major topic following the completion of the Artificial Production Review. The staff working group should work to resolve which projects should be included in the panel's review and report to the Council in June.
4. Form a subcommittee of the panel to work with Council staff to develop a detailed plan for the next annual review.
The Panel recommends that the Council staff and a subcommittee of the Panel develop a detailed plan for the next review.
Staff recommendation: Staff endorses this recommendation and assumes these discussions should begin as soon as possible. Key issues for such a plan are the staggering of the annual review so that it begins earlier in the budget process and the definition of programs to be included in the annual review. Staff recommends that representatives of the involved federal agencies be invited to participate.
Council's Report and Recommendations Upon Review of the Corps of Engineers? Columbia River Fish Mitigation Program (April 1999)
As noted in the Introduction, the Council recently completed a year-and-a-half substantive review of the Corps capital program, with the assistance of the Independent Scientific Advisory Board. The Corps? capital program is major part of the programs in the reimbursables category. The Council intends to attach its report from that review to this year's final report to Congress on the reimbursables program.