I.G.H.A. / HorseAid's Bureau of Land Management News

Audit Critical of BLM Accounting Practices

By Staci Layne Wilson (from the AP Wire and independent sources)

An audit of a $16 million wild horse adoption program uncovered no improper expenditures but criticized some accounting practices for inflating the amount actually being spent directly on the horses.

The report, to be released today by the Interior Department's inspector general, also said that while the program is aimed at culling wild horse and burro herds from federal land, herd sizes still far outnumber the capacity of the federal lands to sustain them properly.

The audit, the first of two investigations by the inspector general's office into the horse adoption program focused on whether funds allocated to the program were being misused. A second, still unfinished report will focus on program activities.

A copy of the financial audit was obtained by The Associated Press and verified by HorseAid.

The report noted that 9,655 wild horses and burros were placed for adoption under the program in 1995, the last year that figures were provided. But it said at the end of 1995 there still were 43,590 wild horses and burros on public lands capable of sustaining only about 27,000 of them properly.

More than 150,000 animals have been adopted since the program began in 1973.

But last month an AP report detailed how thousands of the adopted animals end up in slaughter houses, including horses adopted by employees of the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the program. The horses can be adopted for $125 apiece, opening the opportunity for a profit once an adopted horse is held -- as required -- for a year.

Earlier this month Interior shifted the management of the program from Nevada to the BLM's national headquarters in Washington. In addition to the inspector general's review, the BLM as well as the Justice Department are investigating the reports of irregularities within the program.

The IG's financial audit showed that the program spent $16.5 million in fiscal 1995 and $12.2 million during the first 10 months of fiscal 1996, which ended last Sept. 30. Nearly half of the expenditures were accounted to salaries and workers' benefits, $3.9 million for "contracts" and $4.8 million for "miscellaneous services."

The report said the BLM "inaccurately classified certain indirect salaries as direct costs in its financial records for the program. ... As a result reported salary and other expenditure costs indicated that more direct work was accomplished for the program than may have actually occurred."

During the 22 months of records reviewed, auditors found $1.35 million of indirect administrative salary costs -- for such work as public relations and other support jobs in area or district offices -- being charged to direct program accounts.

The BLM acknowledged the accounting flaw, but said its internal review concluded that the salaries, though attributed improperly in the accounting process, were "clearly legitimate expenditures of the program." The IG's report said the accounting procedure was improper because it "overstates the actual amount of direct work on the program."

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