Discretionary Spending Option 14

Function 300 - Natural Resources and Environment

Eliminate Certain Forest Service Programs

CBO periodically issues a compendium of policy options (called Options for Reducing the Deficit) covering a broad range of issues, as well as separate reports that include options for changing federal tax and spending policies in particular areas. This option appears in one of those publications. The options are derived from many sources and reflect a range of possibilities. For each option, CBO presents an estimate of its effects on the budget but makes no recommendations. Inclusion or exclusion of any particular option does not imply an endorsement or rejection by CBO.

Billions of Dollars 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024 2025 2026 2017-2021 2017-2026
Change in Spending                        
  Budget authority 0 -0.6 -0.6 -0.6 -0.6 -0.7 -0.7 -0.7 -0.7 -0.7 -2.5 -5.9
  Outlays 0 -0.4 -0.5 -0.6 -0.6 -0.6 -0.7 -0.7 -0.7 -0.7 -2.2 -5.6

This option would take effect in October 2017.

The Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service is responsible for more research and development (R&D) on forestry and forest-related resources than any other organization in the world. The Forest Service’s R&D programs address environmental concerns and provide information and tools to assist businesses and other stakeholders in sustainably managing and using natural resources. Research in seven primary areas—which range from the systematic collection and analysis of data on the trees in a particular forest to the identification of best practices in resource management and use—supports a wide variety of projects. Among them are projects aimed at developing new biobased products (such as wood-based chemicals, biofuels, and products that can substitute for petroleum-based materials), identifying innovations in nano-technology that allow wood fibers to be used to manufacture a variety of products (car body panels or textiles, for example), improving carbon sequestration, measuring how resilient resources are to changes in climate, and supporting the management of forest health (such as efforts to combat damaging insects, diseases, and invasive plants).

This option would eliminate two Forest Service programs: the Forest and Rangeland Research program and the State and Private Forestry program. Doing so would save $6 billion through 2026, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

One argument in favor of eliminating federal R&D spending for forestry is that extending such support to the private sector distorts businesses’ investment decisions. When businesses receive support for developing certain products—fuels and chemicals derived from plant materials or new durable composite materials and papers made from wood, for example—they do not have to weigh the full costs of developing those products against the potential gains. Similarly, in a well-functioning market, the domestic and international demand for forest and rangeland products and services would compensate resource managers for investing appropriately in the sustainable production of those goods and services.

One argument against this option is that the benefits of those programs are so widely dispersed that only the federal government has sufficient incentive to provide them. For example, it may be most efficient for the federal government to conduct research and disseminate information on the resiliency of forest resources to changes in climate. Also, markets do not fully account for the benefits that forests and rangelands provide in terms of improved air quality, water quality, and habitat. If those benefits are to be preserved, it may be necessary for the federal government to continue to address forest health.