Federal Land Acquisitions by Condemnation--Opportunities To Reduce Delays and Costs

CED-80-54: Published: May 14, 1980. Publicly Released: May 14, 1980.

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The Federal Government has a backlog of over 20,000 court cases in which it seeks to acquire by condemnation private land for public use. At the close of fiscal year 1978, the land in question was appraised at $481 million. However, actual acquisition costs will be much higher because of administrative costs, awards or settlements in excess of government appraisals, and long delays in court. The large caseload arises from the many sizable land acquisition programs for such purposes as recreation, environmental and wildlife protection, civil and military works, and various other programs authorized by Congress. Moreover, sharply rising real estate prices and administrative expenses make it particularly desirable to expedite acquisitions.

A major problem associated with the heavy caseload is the understaffing in U.S. Attorneys' offices, the Department of Justice's Land Acquisition Section, and land acquisition agencies. In 1978, the equivalent of only 37 full-time Assistant U.S. Attorneys were assigned to condemnation cases, and most of them on a part-time basis. To alleviate this and other problems associated with the heavy caseload, many agencies are focusing on solutions to the manpower shortages and other contributing factors. While the proposed remedial steps are sound, the overall goal, to shorten the average processing time for condemnation cases to 1 year, may be overly optimistic.

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