Payment for Lands Withdrawn From the Public Domain

B-194861: Apr 22, 1981

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The Department of the Interior does not believe that the interdepartmental waiver doctrine should apply when an agency uses withdrawn public lands, effects building improvements, and then, when its need for the land ends, gives notice of its intention to relinquish it. The interdepartmental waiver doctrine means that an executive department, using the real property of another executive department, cannot pay either for the use of the property or, upon returning it, for its restoration to its original condition, unless authorized by statute. The doctrine, in Interior's view, can sometimes result in the property being disposed of contrary to congressional intent, and Interior would like to issue regulations which would prevent that. It plans to propose amendments to the public land regulations which would require that an agency, at the time a parcel of public land is withdrawn, to assure Interior that it will remove any improvements it may add if land use planning indicates that removal is desired. The regulation would give agencies an opportunity to obtain an appropriation specifically for removal of improvements and the appropriation obtained by the agency using the withdrawn land would provide the statutory authority necessary to overcome the doctrine's application. GAO agrees. Charging removal expenses to the withdrawing agencies would not impair congressional fiscal oversight. The pertinent oversight committee could better determine an activity's true cost if the removal expense were charged against the appropriation available for the conduct of the activity than if the expense were charged against the Bureau of Land Management's appropriation. The proposed regulation is proper.