A new report says the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort is handicapped by the failure so far of the federal government and bay watershed states to agree on common goals for reviving the troubled estuary.

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog agency, said in a report released Thursday that a new bay restoration strategy drawn up last year by the Obama administration has not been adopted by Maryland and the bay watershed states.

The year-old federal plan lays out four broad goals, 12 specific goals and 116 actions to be taken by 2025 to restore the bay. It's similar — but different in some key areas — to one adopted in 2000 by federal and state officials. The federal strategy, for example, calls specifically for restoring brook trout populations in bay watershed streams, while the old agreement only speaks generally about managing bay fisheries.

State officials are not working toward all the goals in the federal plan, the GAO report says, in part because they didn't view it as theirs. That could cause confusion and undermine chances the bay restoration would finally succeed, the report warns, especially with funding constraints all levels of government are experiencing.

Federal and state governments first formed a voluntary partnership to restore the bay in 1983, but have repeatedly failed to achieve what they set out to do. Acknowledging their lack of progress three years ago, officials pledged to accelerate their efforts by setting a series of two-year "milestones."

President Barack Obama called in a 2009 executive order for federal agencies to take a leading role in the collaborative effort, and he directed them under the Environmental Protection Agency to come up with a new strategy. Since then, the EPA also has developed a mandatory "pollution diet" for the bay, following an out-of-court settlement of lawsuits alleging the federal government was not doing enough to restore the bay.

Federal officials have acknowledged the inconsistencies between their strategy and the previous one, and have formed a committee to synchronize them. But the GAO notes that hasn't been done yet and may not be until 2013.

Emails seeking comment from federal and Maryland officials were not returned. William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said: "Common goals and clear metrics are essential for the bay's restoration."

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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