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State audit finds poor transparency, biased info from Oregon Forest Resources Institute

Oregon Forest Resources Institute

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) -- An audit released Wednesday by the Secretary of State’s Office finds that the Oregon Forest Resources Institute publicly 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, titled "OFRI’s statute undermines its public benefit, and the state agency is not transparent about its statutory mandate to support the industry," found the agency’s statute and a pattern of behavior has placed the agency’s credibility and public trust in Oregon government at risk.

"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. "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’s statutory mandate to support and enhance the forest products industry may compel the agency to issue oversimplified and misleading information that favors industry perspectives on complex forestry topics. Yet OFRI is not transparent about this mandate in its stated missions, strategic documents, or public messaging. OFRI’s public opinion research also suggests the agency is more focused on shifting public opinion to view current forest practices more favorably rather than increasing public knowledge about forestry.

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

Auditors found OFRI’s statute, including the structure of its Board of Directors, grants the agency wide-ranging authority with limited oversight and does not align with good governance practices. This statute has contributed to the ongoing confusion about the role the agency is intended to serve. The statute also creates compliance risks for OFRI as the agency has long engaged in activities that may fall outside of its statutory authority.

The Secretary of State’s Audits Division received a request from Oregon Governor Kate Brown to audit the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. Upon review of the governor’s request and in consultation with the secretary of state, the Audits Division decided to conduct the audit.

Read the full audit on the Secretary of State website:

News release from the Oregon Forest Resources Institute:

Secretary of State releases OFRI audit report

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Oregon Secretary of State Audits Division has released its full audit report on the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI). The publishing of this report concludes a 10-month process by the Secretary of State to complete the audit, which examined OFRI’s legislative mandate and operations.

In August 2020, Gov. Kate Brown requested that the Secretary of State perform a thorough performance audit of OFRI. The following month, the Audits Division began working with OFRI to fulfill this request, including gathering pertinent documents, and interviewing OFRI staff, board members and stakeholders. 

After concluding their research, state auditors today officially released their findings and recommendations for OFRI. Read the full audit report, which includes an official response from OFRI, here. OFRI has also published a response to the audit process, the report and its recommendations, as well as next steps for the Institute, on its website.

“OFRI appreciates the Oregon Secretary of State Audits Division for their work on this audit,” says OFRI Executive Director Erin Isselmann. “We agree with the operational recommendations in the audit regarding ways to improve our performance, and are already in the process of implementing them.”

In the coming months, OFRI will act on all of the audit’s recommendations for the Institute, including developing a new strategic plan, improving transparency, and engaging with a broader array of stakeholders. The public will be invited to be involved in this process to ensure OFRI’s forest education programs best serve the interests of all Oregonians.

About the Oregon Forest Resources Institute:

The Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) was created by the Oregon Legislature in 1991 to support and enhance the state’s forest products industry by advancing public understanding of forests, forest management and forest products. A 13-member board of directors governs OFRI. It is funded by a portion of the forest products harvest tax.

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