Natural Resources and Environment:

Streamlining and Ensuring Mineral Development Must Begin at Local Land Management Levels

EMD-82-10: Published: Dec 4, 1981. Publicly Released: Jan 4, 1982.

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GAO reviewed the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Eastern States Office (ESO) and its responsibilities relating to coal trespass in that area. Rather than managing the surface of huge tracts of public lands as Western BLM offices do, ESO primarily controls the subsurface mineral estate of some 39.7 million acres of federal lands in 31 states. The surface area of 96 percent of these lands is controlled by other federal agencies, but the mineral leasing responsibilities lie with BLM. Therefore, the ESO role is critical to the development of federal minerals in the East.

This current evaluation is a followup to previous efforts to determine how effectively ESO is dealing with potential federal mineral trespass, how timely ESO is in issuing mineral leases and permits, and whether ESO is able to deal with new areas of mineral interest. In its review, GAO found that ESO: (1) has not yet effectively dealt with potential federal minerals trespass in the East, (2) is unable to timely issue mineral leases and permits, and (3) has been unable to effectively deal with new areas of mineral interest because of the Department of Interior's policy toward the development of minerals. Many of the previous problems identified by GAO continue to exist. Therefore, GAO believes that actions are needed to reevaluate and reemphasize these programs. Moreover, efforts to expedite leasing and to protect minerals from trespass at ESO are likely to contribute to increased federal revenues over the long term.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Bureau of Land Management to evaluate grade levels and technical experience needed by Eastern States Office cartographic technicians and land law examiners to assure that the salaries are competitive and that experience requirements are reasonable.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Bureau of Land Management to implement a personnel evaluation of the Eastern States Office, phase two of the March 1980 ESO Policy Study, to determine that its grade levels are comparable to other Bureau of Land Management State offices. If a more equitable pay scale is not possible, the Secretary should examine alternatives, including moving ESO to a lower cost geographic area, to try to alleviate this problem.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Bureau of Land Management to send a task force to the Eastern States Office to audit the public room records and dockets branch.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Bureau of Land Management to hire a technically knowledgeable person, such as an experienced retiree or annuitant, to work in the public room and answer the public's questions about lease records.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Bureau of Land Management to close the Eastern States Office to the public for some period, perhaps 1 day a week, to provide ESO staff uninterrupted time to work on backlogs.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department disagrees. BLM believes in-house map preparation is both more cost effective and more personnel effective. Options were pursued in 1979, but they did not work. Without other comparable experience, it is unlikely GAO can get BLM to reexamine the issue.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should pursue contracting options to expedite the completion of Federal mineral ownership maps in the East.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation is no longer valid because the agency complied with an active prevention program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should initiate a more active public information mineral trespass prevention program.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should expand the use of memoranda of understanding with other Federal surface-managing agencies to enlist their assistance in monitoring mineral trespass.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  9. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: BLM feels this action is part of good management practice. The new ESO director says that his relationships with Washington will preclude past communications problems. BLM sees no need for a formal consultation process. Further GAO involvement would belabor the issue; the point has been made to BLM management.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should consult with the Director of the Bureau of Land Management and obtain Bureau and Eastern State Office's input to evaluate the impact of policy changes that must be implemented at local levels.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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