South Florida Ecosystem Restoration:

A Land Acquisition Plan Would Help Identify Lands That Need to Be Acquired

RCED-00-84: Published: Apr 5, 2000. Publicly Released: Apr 5, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the importance of land acquisition to the success of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Initiative, focusing on: (1) what the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force did to identify and acquire lands needed to accomplish the goals of the initiative from 1996 through 1999; and (2) what the Department of the Interior did to help ensure that it maximized the acreage purchased--that is, bought as much land as possible, with $200 million in Farm Bill grants.

GAO noted that: (1) the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force has established ecosystem restoration goals and identified land acquisition as critical to achieving them, but it cannot acquire lands on its own; (2) instead, it must accomplish its objectives through the participating federal and state agencies; (3) this puts a premium on having a systematic acquisition plan and effective communication and coordination among the Task Force members; (4) however, the Task Force has not yet developed a land acquisition plan that identifies all of the lands needed to accomplish the goals of the restoration initiative--each federal and state agency has made independent acquisition decisions; (5) from fiscal year (FY) 1996 through FY 1999, these agencies acquired about 541,300 acres for the restoration initiative; (6) without a land acquisition plan, the Task Force cannot: (a) identify all the lands needed for the restoration initiative; (b) reasonably estimate the cost of land acquisition for the initiative; (c) measure progress in acquiring lands for the restoration; or (d) increase the chances that the lands being acquired are needed for the restoration initiative; (7) to maximize the acreage acquired with $200 million in Farm Bill grants, Interior developed a cost-sharing policy that required the state of Florida to match the federal funds dollar for dollar; (8) under this policy, the Secretary of the Interior retained the authority to waive the matching requirement; (9) Interior approved four grants, one of which the state matched dollar for dollar; (10) for the other three grants, the Secretary waived the matching requirement or accepted lands in place of funds; (11) the state had already acquired, or was in the process of acquiring, these lands that it used for matching purposes; (12) had Interior consistently applied its cost-sharing policy, GAO calculates that an additional $77 million would have been available for land acquisition; and (13) according to Interior officials, the agency did not always apply its cost-sharing policy because it wanted to give the state credit for lands that it had already acquired or was in the process of acquiring.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force assigned the task of developing a land acquisition plan to its Working Group. The group issued its land acquisition plan last year and the Task Force approved the plan in February 2003. The plan includes specific references to the requirements GAO laid out in its recommendation and contains elements to meet these requirements.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the lands needed to accomplish the goals of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Initiative are identified and acquired, The Secretary of the Interior, as the Chairperson of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, in conjunction with the other members of the Task Force, should develop a land acquisition plan. This plan would include: (1) an assessment of the lands needed to accomplish each of the goals of the restoration; (2) a description of the purpose for which the lands will be acquired and how they will be managed; (3) an estimate of the cost of these lands; (4) an estimate of when the lands will be needed for related restoration projects; and (5) the agencies responsible for acquiring the lands. This plan should be updated to reflect changes and additions to the restoration initiative's land acquisition needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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