Natural Resources and Environment:

Federal Land Acquisition and Management Practices

CED-81-135: Published: Sep 11, 1981. Publicly Released: Sep 21, 1981.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO addressed the following specific areas: (1) what a study of the land management and acquisition practices of the National Park Service at a few selected sites which are representative of different types of Federal lands would show; (2) what the interrelationships of the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service with the nonprofit organizations' increased role in the acquisition of lands are; (3) whether Federal land acquisition through donation directly to the Government would cost the public more than donations through nonprofit organizations; and (4) whether the National Park Service's purchase of 195,000 acres of land shown by Park Service records as being acquired outside park boundaries was in compliance with the laws and intent of Congress and whether there was any relationship of this acquisition to boundary alterations by the Secretary of the Interior. Additionally, GAO reviewed authorizing legislation for 11 of the 323 areas in the Park Service's system.

In 1979, the Park Service revised its land acquisition policy to give greater consideration to protecting areas through the use of easements, zoning, and cooperative agreements with State and local governments. An analysis of plans from 33 park areas showed that 21 plans discussed alternate land protection methods and that 13 did not address or adequately justify the reasons for fee simple acquisition of property. Land acquisition officers in six areas stated that the policy has had no effect on their land acquisition programs. While nonprofit organizations play a unique and significant role in land acquisition, Federal agencies have no written policies or procedures to guide them as to when it is appropriate to use a nonprofit organization, what the working relationship should be between the agencies and the organizations, or what the proper amount of compensation for purchasing the land should be. These organizations use the tax laws and their nonprofit status to acquire land at a savings to the Government by successfully obtaining donations and bargain sales. However, these savings are not as great if the tax revenue lost as a result of the charitable deduction and capital gains reduction is considered part of the total cost to the Government. GAO determined that about 6,000 acres of Park Service land were outside the boundaries but that the Park Service records are inadequate and incomplete. It did not appear that land outside park area boundaries was acquired contrary to the authorizing legislation or the intent of Congress.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should jointly establish policies and guidelines on the use of nonprofit organizations in acquiring land. The policy should provide guidance to the agencies on when to use nonprofit organizations, what the working relationship should be between Federal agencies and these organizations, and what unique land acquisition procedures might be appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should jointly establish policies and guidelines on the use of nonprofit organizations in acquiring land. The policy should provide guidance to the agencies on when to use nonprofit organizations, what the working relationship should be between Federal agencies and these organizations, and what unique land acquisition procedures might be appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the National Park Service to accurately determine how much land, especially for Badlands National Park, the Park Service has currently outside its parks' boundaries.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the National Park Service to reevaluate all units currently being used for employees' housing and discontinue all housing rentals not in accordance with Interior's Departmental Handbook.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the National Park Service to leave pastoral and historic settings in private ownership, as intended by Congress, for specific areas by using easements or other methods.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  6. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the National Park Service to determine for each area in the National Park System which properties are compatible with the purposes of the area and not subject to acquisition and include this information in land acquisition plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  7. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the National Park Service to develop specific criteria to be used in determining which properties should be purchased because of economic hardships to landowners or acquired in fee simple because of the high cost of easements.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  8. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the National Park Service to require park superintendents to more aggressively use alternatives to fee simple acquisition, such as zoning and easements to protect areas.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  9. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the National Park Service to promptly dispose of all unneeded land outside authorized boundaries to the General Services Administration.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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