In August 2020, Gov. Kate Brown requested that the Oregon Secretary of State perform a thorough performance audit of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI). The following month, the Secretary of State Oregon Audits Division began working with OFRI to fulfill this request.
After nearly a year of gathering documents and interviewing OFRI staff, board members and stakeholders, the Audits Division released its findings and recommendations on July 21, 2021. Read the full report here.
OFRI appreciates the Secretary of State Oregon Audits Division for their work on this audit. The findings in this audit and the criticism of OFRI is certainly challenging, and has caused a period of deep reflection internally at OFRI. We agree with the operational recommendations in the audit regarding ways to improve our performance. Indeed, we’re already in the process of implementing them. However, we disagree with the audit’s conclusion that OFRI’s statute undermines its public benefit. OFRI benefits the public through the important role it serves of educating Oregonians of all ages about forests, forest management and forest products.
As we integrate the audit recommendations and develop a new strategic plan for the Institute in the coming months, we will embark on a transparent process that engages the public to ensure that OFRI’s forest education programs best serve the interests of all Oregonians while also following our statutory mandate.
As discussed in the OFRI audit report, forestry has long been important to Oregonians and the practice of forestry and the forest products industry are key components of Oregon’s cultural identity. Forests cover nearly half of Oregon, and the forest products industry continues to be important to the state’s economy, especially in rural communities. The health of our forests is critical to all Oregonians. As we face increasing threats, including from climate change and wildfires, it behooves us to work together – across industries and interests – to protect our forests.
Here are our next steps following the release of the Secretary of State’s performance audit of OFRI, including some that are already underway:
- The OFRI audit report includes recommendations for the Oregon Legislature to “improve OFRI statutes and better realize the agency’s potential public benefits.” Per OFRI’s statutory prohibition on influencing or attempting to influence legislation, we cannot comment and will look to the Legislature for direction on those recommendations.
- OFRI has budgeted to develop a new strategic plan during our 2021-22 Fiscal Year. OFRI will submit a request for proposals from contractors that have a price agreement with the state of Oregon to provide strategic planning services to state agencies. OFRI will seek to hire a strategic planning contractor with a demonstrated ability to, as the Audits Division recommends, align OFRI’s new strategic plan “with a clear mission and goals tied to specific performance measures.”
- OFRI agrees with the Audits Division’s recommendation that it can improve its communications across its educational programs and resources around its statutory mandate to support and enhance Oregon’s forest products industry. We will look for ways to increase transparency in all our communications and materials.
- We have updated our mission statement to include OFRI’s statutory mandate to support the forest products industry, and this new mission statement can be found in a prominent spot on the “About OFRI” page of our website. Moving forward, this same mission statement will appear on all new OFRI publications and other educational materials. If it is not possible to include the mission statement because of time or space constraints, audiences will be directed to visit OFRI’s website.
- OFRI regularly engages with an extensive group of forestry stakeholders, including conservation groups and academic researchers. But up until now, we have not formally documented this process. Per the Audits Division’s recommendation, OFRI has started improving our documenting standards and internal processes for developing, reviewing and disseminating quality information.
- Since OFRI produces educational materials for the general public, K-12 students and teachers and forest landowners, we will document specific standards and internal processes for developing, reviewing and disseminating quality information to each of these audiences. We’ll also plan to engage with an even broader array of stakeholders, including additional environmental groups, in our ongoing work to educate the public about Oregon’s forests, forest management and forest products.
- Another Audits Division recommendation for OFRI is to “develop a policy to provide guidance to staff and board members on ways to avoid engaging in activities prohibited by statute,” including supporting or opposing litigation or attempting to influence any legislation, rulemaking or other administrative activity. Currently, the OFRI employee and board handbooks explain this statutory prohibition. Staff are also encouraged to direct any concerns about potential conflicts with OFRI’s statutory prohibition to the executive director. If OFRI is requested to present to a committee of the Oregon Legislature, the executive director seeks guidance from the Oregon Department of Justice. To expand our guidance to staff and board members regarding ways to avoid engaging in activities prohibited by statute, we plan to request assistance from the Oregon Ethics Commission and Oregon Department of Justice to develop a formal policy.
- Lastly, OFRI plans to follow the Audits Division’s recommendation to work with Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services and Department of Justice to “conduct a comprehensive review of its statute and determine which statewide policies apply to OFRI.” After this review is completed, OFRI will document which statewide policies apply to the Institute.
The audit recommendations for OFRI are constructive and will improve the Institute’s efforts to help Oregonians better understand and appreciate the forests that serve as one of our state’s greatest resources.