Federal Land Acquisition:

Land Exchange Process Working But Can Be Improved

RCED-87-9: Published: Feb 5, 1987. Publicly Released: Mar 17, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the programs that the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Forest Service and the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) use to plan, negotiate, and implement land exchanges.

GAO found that the land exchange process is working well, since both BLM and the Forest Service: (1) have established and followed procedures governing land exchanges; and (2) notify and negotiate with state and local governments about exchange proposals early in the exchange process to avoid disagreements. GAO also found that: (1) both agencies need to consistently record the costs of processing exchange proposals to ensure the best budgeting and planning decisions; (2) both agencies follow practices, such as adjusting appraised values to reach equal value, which the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) does not allow, since the government receives lands that are not equal to those it conveys; and (3) although pooling increased the agencies' effectiveness in disposing of scattered tracts of federal land for a desirable parcel, neither agency has evaluated pooling to determine whether its use is in the interest of the government and the public.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior disagreed with this recommendation and, therefore, has taken no action. BLM believes that a line-item would constrain the agencies' ability to shift work-load emphasis, and would be very costly for limited gain. GAO maintains that federal agencies must maintain certain accounting standards. Line-item budgeting is one of them; however, the agency is firm on its position.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, BLM, to include a line-item for land exchanges in its proposed budget.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Both USDA and Interior have determined that pooling is a viable approach and have jointly revised and reissued their new land exchange regulations to include common structures and terms. Publication of the new regulations will implement the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief, Forest Service, and the Director, BLM, respectively, to evaluate the use of pooling to determine whether it is in their interest to continue using it. If pooling is continued, then the agencies should develop policies to promote and control its use.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA disagreed with this recommendation and, therefore, plans to take no action. USDA maintains that breaking down the cost to be recorded would require more resources for limited gain. GAO maintains that USDA current cost data is not reliable, and that reliable data is needed to respond to Congress. However, USDA is firm on its position.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief, Forest Service, to issue guidance defining which costs should be recorded as part of the exchange process.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BLM was directed to and has sent a letter to state offices instructing them that the waiver of cash equalization payments is not allowed under FLPMA.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, BLM, to comply with the FLPMA requirement that does not allow waiver of cash equalization payments.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA disagreed with this recommendation. GAO maintains that USDA is not in compliance with FLPMA because USDA officials rounded land value amounts to achieve equalization in land exchanges. This point was raised with the USDA official again. The GAO position was not disputed, however, the official stated that USDA was firm in its position and still plans to take no action.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief, Forest Service, and the Director, BLM, respectively, to comply with the laws governing land exchanges that do not allow the adjustment of appraised values.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BLM was directed to and has sent instructions to its state offices stating that rounding appraisals for the sole purpose of equalizing exchange values is unacceptable.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief, Forest Service, and the Director, BLM, respectively, to comply with the laws governing land exchanges that do not allow the adjustment of appraised values.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior disagreed with this recommendation and, therefore, has taken no action. In 1985, BLM adopted a new coding system, which will allow them to track state and private exchanges. However, BLM will not add a project code for land exchanges because officials do not believe it will improve decisionmaking. GAO maintains that BLM has not fully assessed the benefits of such action.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, BLM, to institute a system to account for the costs associated with land exchanges.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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