Bureau of Reclamation:

Federal Interests Not Adequately Protected in Land-Use Agreements

RCED-91-174: Published: Jul 11, 1991. Publicly Released: Jul 11, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Bureau of Reclamation's land-use agreements with Scottsdale, Arizona, to determine whether the: (1) terms and conditions of the agreements are consistent with federal law; (2) activities approved under the agreements are consistent with applicable agency policies and guidance; and (3) potential exists for the Bureau to enter into similar agreements elsewhere.

GAO found that: (1) although the Bureau of Reclamation must approve development plans, it does not have adequate monitoring and oversight policies and procedures to ensure that lessees developed and operated facilities in accordance with the agreements; (2) in two separate agreements, transferring about 760 acres of land to Scottsdale for recreational development, local Bureau officials agreed to the long-term use of those lands with no compensation to the federal government, approved several for-profit activities, approved a reservation policy granting priority access to a select group of facility users, and allowed private operators to set public-use fees without verifying the data used to set such fees; (3) Bureau instructions governing land-use agreements do not address the issue of public access or public-use fees; (4) Scottsdale did not compensate the Bureau for the use of its lands because local Bureau officials decided that no fee compensation was warranted under the agreements, since leasing the lands supported the Bureau's goal of providing its land for recreation; and (5) the Bureau had authority to enter into agreements to promote the development of land in the public interest for recreation, but typically negotiated such agreements at the regional or local level and did not maintain centralized information, making it difficult to determine whether similar agreements were pending.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Bureau of Reclamation has drafted a schedule to implement this recommendation. The regulation will be revised once the schedule has been approved. Because no firm completion date has been established, GAO will no longer pursue this recommendation.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that federal interests are adequately protected in any future agreements for the nonfederal use of Bureau lands for recreation, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation to expeditiously establish policies and guidance on when and under what conditions: (1) the government should be compensated for the use of Bureau lands; (2) public access restrictions are permissible; and (3) private operators should be allowed to establish public-use fees.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Bureau of Reclamation has drafted a schedule to implement this recommendation. The regulation will be revised once the schedule has been approved. Because no firm completion date has been established, GAO will no longer pursue this recommendation.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that federal interests are adequately protected in any future agreements for the nonfederal use of Bureau lands for recreation, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation to expeditiously establish policies and guidance on what constitutes the appropriate development of lands in the public interest for recreation.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Revisions are being made to current Bureau policy and regulations to address this issue. Completion of revisions is targeted for June 30, 1993.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that federal interests are adequately protected in any future agreements for the nonfederal use of Bureau lands for recreation, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation to expeditiously establish policies and guidance on monitoring and oversight, including verification of limits placed on public-access restrictions and public-use fees established by private operators.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A memorandum was published November 4, 1991, requiring Assistant Commissioner-level review of all proposed agreements or amendments.

    Recommendation: Any future negotiation of agreements with nonfederal public entities or any approval of further development under existing agreements should be postponed until the Bureau has established and implemented the above policies and guidance.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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