Fagan’s forestry agency audit points to lack of transparency, accountability

Civic Affairs

Gov. Brown requested audit in 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon’s Secretary of State’s Office released an audit of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) Wednesday morning that found the agency is lacking in transparency and accountability, according to a prepared statement by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. The audit comes almost a year after Gov. Kate Brown asked for one to be conducted for the state agency.

According to the release, OFRI presents itself as an objective, educational entity, but at times shares biased information and lacks transparency about its mandate to support and enhance the forest products industry. The audit found that the agency’s credibility and public trust in Oregon government is at risk due to the agency’s statute and pattern of behavior

“This audit demonstrates just how critical it is for publicly-funded agencies to be transparent and accountable to Oregonians. Without those key components, Oregonians lose faith in the very services whose purpose is to make a positive difference,” said Secretary of State Shemia Fagan in a prepared statement. “Public money should not be used to mislead the public — especially on a topic as complex and important as our state’s natural resources.”

The audit found OFRI may have been compelled to issue oversimplified or misleading information that favors industry views on complicated forestry topics due to the agency’s statutory mandate to support and enhance the forest products industry. In addition, the audit found OFRI to be not transparent about its mandate in its publicly posted missions, strategic documents or messaging. 

“Proper use of public resources is vital to earning the trust of Oregonians,”  Fagan said. “The OFRI board and staff must improve transparency, develop quality control processes around educational materials, and build strong internal compliance controls.” 

The audit also found that the agency has wide-ranging authority with limited oversight due to OFRI’s statute, including the structure of its Board of Directors and is not in alignment with good governance practices. The statute has contributed to ongoing confusions about the role the agency is intended to serve, according to the press release. In addition, the Secretary of State’s Office said the statute also creates compliance risks for the agency as OFRI has long engaged in activities that may fall outside of its statutory authority. 

The Secretary of State’s Office made five recommendations: one to the Oregon Legislature and four to OFRI, all four of which the agency agreed to comply with, according to the audit.

The recommendation to the legislature was to revise and clarify OFRI’s enabling statute to be consistent with principles of good governance. The recommendations to OFRI included developing a policy to provide guidance to staff and board members on ways to avoid engaging in activities prohibited by the statute, improving internal controls, improving transparency about its mandate, and conducting a comprehensive review of its statute and determine which statewide policies apply to OFRI in consultation with the Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Justice. 

Read the entire audit, called “OFRI’s statute undermines its public benefit, and the state agency is not transparent about its statutory mandate to support the industry,” on the Secretary of State’s website

Brown requested the agency be audited after reports that OFRI engaged in activities they were prohibited by law from doing. The OFRI is “mandated to support and enhance Oregon’s forest products industry.”

Taxes on the forest industry fund the agency, which provides educational programs for landowners and K-12 students.

Fagan was joined by Kip Memmott, the director of the Audits Division, at a 10:15 a.m. press conference Wednesday morning.

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