Auditors say state undercharged feds $300,000 for forest fire costs | NevadaAppeal.com

Auditors say state undercharged feds $300,000 for forest fire costs

Geoff Dornan, Appeal Capitol Bureau

Legislative auditors say the state’s forestry division undercharged the federal government more than $300,000 for fire-suppression costs in 2001.

Auditors also told Nevada lawmakers the division didn’t have proper documentation for more than a quarter of the $2.4 million the state paid federal agencies for fire-suppression support.

State Forester Steve Robinson agreed with all 12 of the audit’s recommendations to fix those and other problems, but said part of the problem was caused by turnover of key staff in the division, which resulted in procedures not being followed.

The Nevada Division of Forestry responded to 3,180 incidents in fiscal 2001. More than 654,000 acres burned that year. The state pays federal and other agencies for their assistance and, in a complicated billing procedure, receives payments from the same agencies for the help it provides.

According to auditors, the division failed to recover about $300,000 in reimbursable expenditures from federal agencies — primarily the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management — and other states. That compares to the $7.1 million total reimbursements received during the 18 months ending Dec. 31, 2001.

“Because of the difficulty in budgeting for emergency expenditures, it is critical that all reimbursable expenditures are properly billed and only appropriate expenditures are charged to the account,” the audit report states.

Auditors said they found nine invoices totaling $617,000 paid to BLM, the USFS and National Guard that didn’t have sufficient documentation. The report says that without that, it impossible to determine whether the payments were appropriate.

The National Guard bills, for example, didn’t contain any flight-time documentation, even though some of those charges exceeded $3,000 an hour. Total aircraft bills from the guard were about half the $617,000 total.

Robinson told the committee he and his staff were working to make sure procedures are followed in the future and to tighten controls where necessary so that the problem doesn’t happen again.