National Park Service:

Agency Should Recover Costs of Validity Examinations for Mining Claims

RCED-00-265: Published: Sep 19, 2000. Publicly Released: Oct 19, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the federal costs of conducting validity examinations at three California Desert parks, focusing on whether: (1) data are available on the National Park Service's costs of conducting validity examinations at these parks since 1994; and (2) the Park Service recovers the costs of such examinations from claimants.

GAO noted that: (1) the Park Service does not know how much it is spending to conduct validity examinations because it does not routinely track the direct costs of examinations--such as examiners' salaries and time--and does not have a system to allocate the appropriate indirect costs--such as fringe benefits, supplies, and utilities; (2) although it cannot produce an accounting of its actual expenses, the Park Service estimated it has spent about $668,000, primarily on direct costs, for the 17 validity examinations it has initiated at three California Desert parks--about $281,000 on contracts for fieldwork and about $387,000 on examiners' salaries, travel, and mineral tests; (3) these estimates are less than the full costs, however, because the Park Service has not determined all of its direct or indirect costs that can be attributed to the examinations; (4) the Park Service does not recover any costs of its validity examinations from claimants; (5) the Secretary of the Interior is authorized to establish reasonable charges for processing documents relating to public lands; (6) relying on this authority, the Department of the Interior's Solicitor issued an opinion in December 1996, stating that the Bureau of Land Managment's costs of processing mining documents, including validity examinations and plans of operations, can and should be recovered from claimants; (7) the Bureau has drafted regulations--which are expected to be published in the Federal Register in fall 2000--to recover various costs incurred in managing its minerals program, including the costs of its validity examinations; (8) Interior officials believe that the Park Service also could recover the costs of a validity examination when a claimant has submitted a plan of operations, and the Park Service has been working with the Bureau to be included in the regulations; (9) however, 7 of the 17 examinations initiated by the Park Service since 1994 were not undertaken to process and approve claimants' plans of operations but were instead initiated by park superintendents for other reasons, such as a need to address management or environmental problems posed by particular claims; and (10) the Park Service has not written guidelines to guide its park superintendents in making decisions about when it is appropriate to initiate discretionary examinations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: The National Park Service (NPS) anticipated that this recommendation would be implemented if the Service were covered by a proposed regulation allowing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)to recover various costs associated with managing its mineral program, including conducting validity examinations. BLM is in the process of re-drafting proposed cost recovery regulations to include validity examinations. NPS and BLM have entered into discussions about including NPS into the regulations to recover costs associated with the validity examinations, which has also been elevated to the Departmental level. However, there have been no decisions reached on this.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require that the Director of the Park Service should develop an accurate accounting of the costs of its validity examinations.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: The National Park Service (NPS) anticipated that this recommendation would be implemented if the Service were covered by a proposed regulation allowing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)to recover various costs associated with managing its mineral program, including conducting validity examinations. BLM is in the process of re-drafting proposed cost recovery regulations to include validity examinations. NPS and BLM have entered into discussions about including NPS into the regulations to recover costs associated with the validity examinations, which has also been elevated to the Departmental level. However, there have been no decisions reached on this.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require that the Director of the Park Service should take steps to recover the costs of validity examinations to the extent allowed by law.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: The National Park Service (NPS) anticipated that this recommendation would be implemented if the Service were covered by a proposed regulation allowing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)to recover various costs associated with managing its mineral program, including conducting validity examinations. BLM is in the process of re-drafting proposed cost recovery regulations to include validity examinations. NPS and BLM have entered into discussions about including NPS into the regulations to recover costs associated with the validity examinations, which has also been elevated to the Departmental level. However, there have been no decisions reached on this.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require that the Director of the Park Service should develop guidance that describes the circumstances under which discretionary validity examinations--for which costs may or may not be recoverable for claimants--are appropriately initiated.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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