626 F.2d 917
200 U.S.App.D.C. 53, 10 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,172
NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION, Appellant,
The UNITED STATES of America, et al.
United States Court of Appeals,
District of Columbia Circuit.
Argued Sept. 18, 1979.
Decided Feb. 11, 1980.
Peter C. Kirby for appellant.
Anne S. Almy, Atty., Dept. of Justice, with whom James W. Moorman, Asst. Atty. Gen., Earl J. Silbert, U. S. Atty., Cameron M. Blake, Asst. U. S. Atty., Robert L. Klarquist and James T. Draude, Attys., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., were on the brief, for appellees.
Before McGOWAN and LEVENTHAL, Circuit Judges, and PENN, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia.
Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge McGOWAN.
McGOWAN, Circuit Judge:
This appeal is from the District Court's dismissal of a suit requesting declaratory relief and mandamus against the President of the United States and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. At issue is the adequacy vel non of certain disclosures and explanations accompanying the President's proposed fiscal 1979 budget in light of section 8(b) of the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1606(b) (1976). For the reasons set forth below, we think the District Court properly declined to provide the relief sought. We therefore affirm.I
THE STATUTORY FRAMEWORK
The Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, Pub.L.No. 93-378, 88 Stat. 476, as amended (the Act), requires the President and the administration to develop what is, in effect, a master plan for the management and use of forests and rangelands. See 16 U.S.C. §§ 1601-06 (1976). The master plan is highly multifarious. Its components include a "Renewable Resource Assessment," id. § 1601, a "Renewable Resource Program," id. § 1602, a system of "annual reports," id. §§ 1606(c), 1601(d), 1602(e), a presidential "Statement of Policy," id. § 1606, and various presidential "budget statements," id. To understand the gravamen of this lawsuit, it is necessary to describe in some detail the purposes and elements of each component of the master plan.
A. The "Renewable Resource Assessment"
The Act requires that a "Renewable Resource Assessment" (the Assessment) be prepared by the Secretary of Agriculture. The first Assessment was prepared in 1976. The Assessment is to be updated in 1979, and every tenth year thereafter. Id. § 1601(a). The Assessment, inter alia, must:
(1) analyze the present and anticipated uses and demand for, and supply of, renewable resources, id. § 1601(a)(1);
(2) inventory renewable resources and evaluate the ways of, and costs associated with, increasing the "yield of tangible and intangible goods and services" from these resources, id. §§ 1601(a)(2), 1601(b)(1), 1603, taking into account the possible application of new technology, id. § 1601(b)(3);
(3) describe Forest Service programs, id. § 1601(a)(3);
(4) discuss any factors that would alter existing patterns of use or management of forests and rangelands, id. § 1601(a)(4); and
(5) report on the prospects for increased conservation by recycling wood wastes, id. § 1601(b)(2).
B. The "Renewable Resource Program"
The Act also requires the Secretary of Agriculture to prepare and submit to the President a "Renewable Resource Program" (the Program) for the protection, management and development of the National Forest System. The first Program was due in 1975; the Secretary must update it every five years. Specifically, the Program must discuss, inter alia :
(1) developing forest roads and trails, id. § 1602;
(2) Forest Service programs and their goals, id. §§ 1602, 1602(5)(A);
(3) appropriate areas of research, id. § 1602;
(4) desirable public and private investments, id. § 1602(1);
(5) priorities for accomplishing goals, id. § 1602(3);
(6) probable personnel requirements, id. § 1602(4); and
(7) the impact of timber export and import on supplies and prices, id. § 1602(5)(E).
As part of the Renewable Resource Program, the Secretary of Agriculture also must develop "land management plans" for each area in the National Forest System. These plans must, inter alia, specify the amount and manner in which timber may be cut. Id. § 1604.
C. The Annual Reports
In addition to the Assessment and the Program, the Act requires the Secretary of Agriculture to issue several varieties of annual reports. One annual report must:
(1) describe the status and findings of major research projects, id. § 1606(c); and
(2) discuss in "quantitative and qualitative terms" the "progress in implementing the Program . . . together with accomplishments of the Program as they relate to the objectives of the Assessment" taking into account the "balance between economic factors and environmental quality factors." Id. § 1606(d).
This report must be written "in concise summary form." Id. § 1606(f).
The Act requires that a second variety of annual report be prepared by the Secretary of Agriculture. This report must describe the amount and location of National Forest system land that needs reforestation, id. § 1601(d)(1), and the approximate amount of money required each year systematically to replant this land, id. § 1601(d)(2). See also id. § 1607.
A third required annual report must discuss the benefits and possible harms of using various herbicides and pesticides in the National Forest System. Id. § 1601(e).
D. The "Statement of Policy"
In addition to these various documents and reports, the President is required to submit a "Statement of Policy" to Congress "to be used in framing budget requests by that Administration for Forest Service activities." Id. § 1606(a). The Statement of Policy must accompany each revision of the Assessment and the Program. Id. The Statement of Policy apparently is intended to reflect the administration's future plans for Forest Service programs and activities in light of the Assessment and the Program. Either House of Congress may disapprove the Statement of Policy within 90 days of its issuance. Congress also may modify the statement by conventional legislation. Id.
E. The Budget Statements
The final document required by the Act is designed to tie together the numerous reports and studies described above. Each year the President is required to submit, with the Forest Service budget request, a statement "express(ing) in qualitative and quantitative terms the extent to which the programs and policies projected under the budget meet the policies approved by the Congress." Should the proposed budget fail to meet these policies, the Act states that the President "shall specifically set forth the reason or reasons for requesting the Congress to approve the lesser programs or policies presented" (the Statement of Reasons). Id. § 1606(b).
THE RESPONSE OF THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH TO THE ACT
President Ford on March 2, 1976, transmitted to Congress the Statement of Policy required by the Act. The Statement of Policy revealed the intention, subject to other budget constraints, to propose Forest Service budgets adequate to fulfill the recommendations of the Program. Congress neither disapproved nor modified this Statement of Policy.
We have seen that the Act requires the President, in submitting the proposed annual budget, (1) to "express in qualitative and quantitative terms" the extent to which the proposed budget is consistent with the Statement of Policy, and (2) to "set forth the reason or reasons for requesting the Congress to approve the lesser programs or policies presented" in the budget. 16 U.S.C. § 1606(b). These requirements underlie this lawsuit.
A. The Fiscal 1979 Budget Process
President Carter submitted the proposed fiscal 1979 budget to Congress on January 20, 1978. The President proposed a.$1.8 billion budget for the Forest Service. A budget that included all the money envisioned by the Program would have totalled about $2.4 billion. The budget report noted, correctly, that "the proposed budget for the Forest Service is considerably less than that suggested by the reports prepared pursuant to the Resources Planning Act." The Forest Service the same day transmitted to Congress a document entitled Ex planatory Notes, which stated, in pertinent part:
The President's goal is to balance the Federal budget by 1981 and to hold Federal employment to minimum levels. To meet this goal, decisions must be made now which identify programs which are not of the highest priority and which propose the necessary action to reduce and/or eliminate these programs. The Forest Service operates a large and aggressive program including the Young Adult Conservation Corps and Job Corps programs, and will accomplish the highest priority work within these capabilities and fiscal policy. The fiscal year 1979 budget reflects this effort, and while the budget is somewhat less than fiscal year 1978, it is considerably more than fiscal year 1977.
Explanatory Notes at 7.
House and Senate appropriations subcommittees held hearings on the proposed Forest Service budget during March and April, 1978. At the hearings, subcommittee members asked for, and obtained, figures disclosing the differences between the budget requests and the amounts needed fully to achieve the goals of the Program. See Department of Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations for 1979: Hearings Before a Subcomm. of the Senate Comm. on Appropriations, 95th Cong., 2d Sess. passim (1978); Department of Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations for 1979: Hearings Before a Subcomm. of the House Comm. on Appropriations, 95th Cong., 2d Sess. passim (1978) (hereinafter cited as House Hearings ). Various legislators criticized the proposed budget as excessively penurious in light of the Program's recommendations. At no time during the hearings, however, did a legislator or witness assert that the President had failed to comply with section 1606(b) in any respect.
The National Wildlife Federation on April 28, 1978, sent a letter to President Carter. The letter argued, inter alia, that he had not complied with section 1606(b). The letter asked the President promptly to supply an adequate Statement of Reasons for recommending lesser Forest Service funding. The President apparently neither replied to the letter nor offered any further explanation of the proposed budget.
The House passed the Forest Service appropriations bill on June 21, 1978. The Senate passed a similar bill on August 9, 1978. Each chamber approved the conference report. The President signed the bill October 17, 1978.
The cyclical budget process began again in January, 1979, with the President's submission of a proposed budget for fiscal 1980. The proposed budget included a new Statement of Reasons required by the Act.B. The Lawsuit
Meanwhile, on June 8, 1978, appellant filed this suit asking for mandamus and declaratory relief. The suit alleged two violations of section 8(b) of the Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1606(b) (1976). It asserted, first, that the President had failed to comply with the requirement that the budget request "express in qualitative and quantitative terms the extent to which the programs and policies projected under the budget" fall short of the plans established by the Statement of Policy accepted by Congress. Second, the suit alleged that the President had failed adequately to set forth the "reason or reasons for requesting the Congress to approve the lesser programs or policies." The essence of appellant's contention on this count is that although a reason was given for proposing a total budget of lesser magnitude than that envisioned by the Program, no reasons were given for favoring certain components of the Forest Service budget over others.
Decision of the case was expedited on plaintiff's motion. On July 21, 1978 before the appropriations bill was enacted the District Court dismissed the complaint. The first count was moot, the court held, because information supplied by administration witnesses during budget hearings fulfilled the "qualitative and quantitative" requirement.
The second count was dismissed for a different reason. The District Court held that no "discernible standards" existed to permit a court to determine whether the President had supplied an adequate Statement of Reasons in requesting lesser appropriations than that envisioned by the Statement of Policy. In the view of the District Court, therefore, the lawsuit raised a nonjusticiable political question within the meaning of Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 82 S.Ct. 691, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962).
The National Wildlife Federation appealed from each ruling.
Federal courts possess the discretionary power to withhold mandamus and declaratory relief. The exercise of that discretion is appropriate, we think, in light of the facts of this case. We therefore affirm the denial of relief by the District Court without passing upon the adequacy of the President's submissions under the Act.
Where a federal official has a clear obligation to perform a ministerial duty, a federal district court may issue a writ of mandamus under 28 U.S.C. section 1361 to compel the fulfillment of the obligation. Mandamus is not precluded because the federal official at issue is the President of the United States. National Treasury Employees Union v. Nixon, 160 U.S.App.D.C. 321, 492 F.2d 587 (D.C.Cir.1974).
That the statute permits the issuance of mandamus does not require its issuance. Mandamus is issued at the discretion of the court. Hayakawa v. Brown, 415 U.S. 1304, 1305, 94 S.Ct. 1145, 39 L.Ed.2d 457 (Douglas, Circuit Justice, 1974); Cartier v. Secretary of State, 165 U.S.App.D.C. 130, 138, 506 F.2d 191, 199 (D.C.Cir.1974), cert. denied, 421 U.S. 947, 95 S.Ct. 1677, 44 L.Ed.2d 101 (1975); National Treasury Employees Union v. Nixon, 160 U.S.App.D.C. 321, 350, 492 F.2d 587, 616 (D.C.Cir.1974). See Kerr v. United States District Court, 426 U.S. 394, 403, 96 S.Ct. 2119, 2124, 48 L.Ed.2d 725 (1976).
B. Declaratory Judgment
It is clear beyond cavil that a suit for a declaratory judgment may present a justiciable case or controversy within the meaning of Article III of the Constitution. Judicial discretion exists, nevertheless, to deny declaratory relief.
The Federal Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. section 2201 (1976), makes clear the discretionary nature of the remedy. The statute provides that in "a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction," a federal court "may " give a declaratory judgment. Id. (emphasis added). That this language is intended to permit the court in its discretion to withhold declaratory relief is well established. E. g., Zemel v. Rusk, 381 U.S. 1, 19, 85 S.Ct. 1271, 1282, 14 L.Ed.2d 179 (1965); A. L. Mechling Barge Lines, Inc. v. United States, 368 U.S. 324, 331, 82 S.Ct. 337, 341, 7 L.Ed.2d 317 (1961); Public Service Commission v. Wycoff Co., 344 U.S. 237, 241, 73 S.Ct. 236, 239, 97 L.Ed. 291 (1952); Geni-Chlor International, Inc. v. Multisonics Development Corp., 580 F.2d 981, 985 (9th Cir. 1978); Hart & Wechsler, supra note 1, at 132.C. The Public Interest in Offering Discretionary Relief
Among the factors to be considered in deciding whether to grant declaratory relief in a particular case is the public interest vel non in resolving the controversy. Similarly, the exercise of discretion to issue a writ of mandamus also must be guided by the court's perception of the public interest.
Sometimes the great public importance of an issue militates in favor of its prompt resolution. See Duke Power Co. v. Carolina Environmental Study Group, Inc., 438 U.S. 59, 95-96, 98 S.Ct. 2620, 2642-2643, 57 L.Ed.2d 595 (1978) (Rehnquist, J., concurring) & id at 102-03 (Stevens, J., concurring) (contending that the majority ignored powerful jurisdictional and justiciability arguments because it thought it important to consider on the merits the constitutionality of the Price-Anderson Act's liability limitations for nuclear accidents). At other times, however, the public interest dictates that courts exercise restraint in passing upon crucial issues. See, e. g., Public Affairs Associates, Inc. v. Rickover, 369 U.S. 111, 112-13, 82 S.Ct. 580, 581-82, 7 L.Ed.2d 604 (1962). We think such restraint is necessary where, as here, appellants ask us to intervene in wrangling over the federal budget and budget procedures. Such matters are the archetype of those best resolved through bargaining and accommodation between the legislative and executive branches. We are reluctant to afford discretionary relief when to do so would intrude on the responsibilities including the shared responsibilities of the coordinate branches.
These concerns are intertwined with constitutional and prudential limitations on federal court jurisdiction. Appellant here may lack standing, and this case arguably presents a nonjusticiable political question. Appellees urge with great vigor that the case is, in any event, moot. These are not frivolous arguments, but we do not base our decision on any one of them. The cumulative effect of these circumstances does, however, place this dispute in the margin of our authority to adjudicate under Article III, if indeed it is within our adjudicatory authority at all. We are therefore disposed to be cautious in pronouncing upon the adequacy of the President's budget statements under the Act.
We decline the invitation to so pronounce under the circumstances of this case. Our decision is grounded in the discretionary power we possess to withhold mandamus or a declaratory judgment. Exercising that discretionary power is appropriate here for several reasons in addition to the serious justiciability questions already noted.
First, no legislator complained that the President's informational submissions violated the Act. The funding levels proposed by the budget received much scrutiny and much criticism during the congressional hearings. Some legislators expressed dismay that the overall budget was only about 71% of that envisioned by the Program. Legislators also attacked proposed funding reductions for even the most obscure individual programs. But no legislator at any time complained that the President had violated the Act by supplying inadequate information. No complaint was forthcoming even after the National Wildlife Federation sent to all the appropriations committee members a copy of its letter to President Carter. See note 4 and accompanying text supra.
The absence of congressional complaints is highly relevant, we think, in light of the Act's purpose. Congress in 1974 was frustrated by President Nixon's impoundment of appropriated funds. See generally Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, Pub.L. No. 93-344, 88 Stat. 297 (codified at 31 U.S.C. §§ 1301-53). The Renewable Resources Planning Act to some extent reflected these sentiments. See 16 U.S.C. § 1606(b) (1976). The Act was designed to help legislators understand when, and to what extent, budget requests were inadequate to fulfill policies approved by Congress. In light of the Act's purpose, one would expect that legislators dissatisfied with the President's submissions would have made their dissatisfaction known. Appellant concedes that not one legislator did so.
Second, appellant also concedes that no witness at the appropriations hearings not even appellant's own witness complained that the President's submission was inadequate, or that debate was handicapped by the inadequacy of the presidential statement.
Third, we are hesitant to venture to rule on the President's compliance with the Act because this issue may never arise again. As the District Court recognized, passage of time under the Act may produce a greater accommodation of appellant's view of the statutory requirements and the President's response to them. Indeed, this already may have occurred. The President's Statement of Reasons accompanying the proposed 1980 budget is more elaborate than that accompanying the 1979 budget. Compare 1980 Statement, supra note 5, with 1979 Statement, p. 7 supra. Moreover, the Assessment, Program, and Statement of Policy all have been newly revised during the pendency of this appeal, or are in the process of being revised. 16 U.S.C. §§ 1601(a), 1602, 1606(a). This controversy never will recur unless future budget statements diverge from the plans envisioned by the updated versions of these documents. That it is wholly speculative that this dispute will arise again militates against awarding discretionary relief.
We think for all these reasons that it would be improvident, on the record before us, to afford mandamus or a declaratory judgment. We therefore ground our affirmance of the District Court's decision on the discretionary power federal courts possess to withhold such relief. Accordingly, we do not assess the adequacy of the President's submissions under the Act.