'Juice Is Not Worth the Squeeze' of Merging Two Wildlife Agencies, Report Finds

United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Merging two marine life oversight entities would not be worth the trouble, stakeholders told a watchdog agency, despite the possibility of improving collaboration and saving money.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service provide many similar functions, including protecting endangered marine species and restoring fish and wildlife habitat, according to a Government Accountability Office report. The two agencies are distinct enough, however, to warrant their current separation, the watchdog suggested.

NMFS is a division of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration -- which itself is housed in the Commerce Department -- while FWS is part of the Interior Department. The primary difference between the two organizations is in habitat types they oversee, as the FWS often deals with species found on land and fresh water, while NMFS is more involved with animals in other marine environments. GAO conducted interviews with 97 former and current agency stakeholders, who found both benefits and drawbacks to merging the two organizations.

One benefit would be implementing the Endangered Species Act more efficiently, as a single agency would be able to monitor proposals for construction projects on protected land, such as building a road. However, some argued the process would be equally as time consuming no matter how many agencies were involved.

Many stakeholders predicted significant cost savings resulting from a merger, but could not provide an estimate due to the uncertainty of how the reorganization would take shape. NMFS employs 2,800 workers and had a 2012 budget of $880 million, while FWS has 9,500 on staff and a $1.5 billion annual budget.

GAO found that a merger could disrupt management of fisheries, as a new agency’s lawyers, for example, would not have experience in ensuring regulators stayed in line with current laws. This, on top of other “transition costs,” would be a major drawback to reorganization, the report said. Differing priorities at different departments could also be a negative consequence of a merger, the auditors said, as Interior might focus too heavily on environmental impacts of a new proposal while Commerce also accounted for the economics of the project.

Over the past few decades, dozens of presidential and congressional commissions have conducted studies to reorganize NMFS, FWS or both. No proposal has ever been enacted, however, as investigators often found the need for each entity to compete for funds under one agency would ultimately be detrimental to their core missions.

While GAO did not make an official recommendation, a few stakeholders summarized the prevailing opinion by saying, “the juice is not worth the squeeze” of reorganizing the agencies. 

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.