Kelly Sliger: A Fiscal Officer Whose Work Really Counts

By Lev Levy, public affairs officer, Columbia-Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

You can listen to a podcast version of this interview above. Kelly Sliger (left), with Steve Mullin and Rosemary Camacho on Tinian, one of the three principal islands of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Steve and Rosemary work for the Division of Fish and Wildlife for the Commonwealth
of the Northern Mariana Islands. Photo by Ruth Utzurrum/USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is in awe of Kelly Sliger.

Kelly is the fiscal officer for the Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) Program in the Columbia-Pacific Northwest and Pacific Islands Regions, including Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands of American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Kelly and the WSFR program administer roughly $298 million in grants to states and Tribes. Kelly is a financial expert when it comes to providing technical assistance to partners. It’s a huge job, and Kelly is considered one of the Service’s best.

In 2021, the Department of Interior awarded Kelly a 2021 Meritorious Service Award in recognition of her leadership and outstanding contributions. This is an interview with Kelly about what she does and her experiences with the agency.

Kelly, we know you’re a fiscal officer. What exactly do you do?

Kelly: I’m currently managing 765 active grants worth about $298 million. We manage the grants from pre-award clear through closeout. It’s not just me, but also the fiscal team and our biologists that work in the WSFR program. I am also the contact for the Office of Inspector General (OIG) when it comes to the states being audited. I basically administer the government’s funds to make sure the funds are spent appropriately.

You’ve worked for the Service for 24 years. Last year you won the Department of Interior’s 2021 Meritorious Service Award. What an incredible achievement! What does that award mean to you?

Kelly: Well, it was a nice award (laughs). I’m actually pretty proud of it, but I couldn’t have done it without the rest of the team. Not only the fiscal team, but the regional and national programmatic teams. I couldn’t have done it alone.

(Kelly is too humble to say this, but the states and Tribes we work with really trust and respect Kelly. That trust and respect is based on long relationships that she’s developed. Kelly is known for being proactive and a great partner.)

Kelly, why have you chosen to stay with the WSFR program all these years?

Kelly: Because I really love the partnerships with the states. My dad was a hunter and a fisherman. It’s really great to know that I can go to Milwaukie (Oregon) and see a boat ramp that’s built by our program. I came from budget and finance, so I like the money side of things, and I think we have one of the best teams of people in the Service. I notice that once people get jobs in the WSFR program, they don’t leave, they pretty much stay.

How do the grants you manage benefit conservation?

Kelly: When we administer the grants and the states receive the money, they’re doing things like conserving wildlife, restoring wildlife, and restoring fish for recreational activities like boating, hunting and fishing. Even recreational viewers benefit from the restoration of the wildlife. If there was no wildlife and fish out there, then there would be no need for the program.

I know these grants have a life cycle where they start with taxes on recreational equipment. The money from those taxes moves to an account in the Treasury Department and back through the WSFR program out to states for conservation projects. What role does the outdoor recreation industry play in this process, and how does industry benefit?

Kelly: So, it’s a, “user pay, user benefit” program. The excise taxes that come from the manufacturers on the recreational equipment — mostly hunting, fishing, and fuel taxes from boating — support these grants. The WSFR program provides the money to the states so that they can do the conservation projects.

Can you walk us through step by step what happens with the grant process and what your role is?

Kelly: We start with the pre-award part of the program. Part of my job is getting out the notice of funding opportunities so states can apply for the competitive grants. Once the applications are submitted, then the fiscal and programmatic teams begin the review process. Once the reviews are complete, the fiscal team does things like create purchase requisition, generate the notice of award, and add the terms and conditions. Then we give the biologists time to review the terms and conditions to make sure we have everything we need. Once that’s done, we finalize it and send it to the grant management officer who approves and issues the notice of award. There are also formula grants, but those are managed a bit differently.

The OIG sometimes audits the WSFR program and partners. What does an audit look like?

Kelly: The state fish and wildlife agencies are audited on their grants once every five years or so. The auditors basically take a detailed look at the grants to make sure everything was done correctly, and the money was spent appropriately. I’m the liaison between the states and the OIG.

(Audits are a big deal in Kelly’s world. States and Tribes need to produce extensive documentation to substantiate their spending. If the grantees cannot verify their spending, they need to pay that money back to the government. Kelly and her team led two states in our region to achieve the rare audit condition of zero adverse findings. When it comes to audits, Kelly and her team are crushing it.)

Kelly, what kinds of projects are states able to do with the grant money, and what are the names of some of the grants?

Kelly: States do things like develop boat ramps, fishing access sites, and hunting access sites. They can run hunter and aquatic education programs and restore fish and wildlife. There’s also the Clean Vessel Act, which funds help keep waste out of water with pump-out stations. There’s the Boating Infrastructure Program, which creates the bigger tie-ups for the bigger boats, like the 26-footers. There’s the Coastal Wetlands Program, which helps states restore wetlands and complete land acquisitions to protect wetlands. We also administer part of the Endangered Species Act, which allows the Service to provide states with money to help protect threatened and endangered species. We have a White Nose Syndrome grant that allows states to help recover bats.

Kelly, I’ve got to say — this is impressive. You must be good at math.

Kelly: (Laughs). I’m pretty good. But like I said, it’s a team effort. I really do love my job.

Kelly Sliger standing with colleagues on Tinian island.

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Conservation stories from one of the world’s most ecologically diverse regions.

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