Changes in Public Land Management Required To Achieve Congressional Expectations

CED-80-82: Published: Jul 16, 1980. Publicly Released: Jul 16, 1980.

Additional Materials:


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) does not have, nor is it legislatively required to have, long-range programs and quantified production goals for renewable resources such as timber, grazing forage, minerals, and energy. As a result, it has no realistic basis for determining the production levels necessary to meet its share of the nation's needs. The Forest Service is required to assess renewable resources, both public and private, and to develop a long-range program and goals for its lands. Production goals must account for limitations such as wilderness studies, environmental protection laws and programs, wild and scenic river designations, lawsuits and administrative appeals. It is important for the agencies to set annual goals which reflect such events as they occur. Meeting these goals will require comprehensive forest and rangeland management plans.

BLM is reluctant to adopt certain features of the program planning process required of the Forest Service. It believes certain of those requirements, particularly multidecade budgeting, may not be cost-effective or useful. GAO has no objection to a modified program process for BLM as long as it accomplishes the essential objectives and meets congressional needs. The plan should be reviewed by Congress and set forth in legislation. BLM and the Forest Service have recently finalized new more comprehensive land management planning and resource inventory procedures. If the procedures are followed, they should result in more specific plans based on more complete inventory data, improvements which GAO has advocated for several years. The new procedures are a step in the right direction and deserve the opportunity to be tested through application. Both BLM and Forest Service efforts to effectively manage their lands and resources have been seriously impaired by limited and variable staff and funds available. GAO feels that personnel ceilings are an ineffective substitute for responsible management and should be abandoned, but it believes that they will not be abandoned in the foreseeable future. The Office of Management and Budget maintains that its new system of work-year ceilings will alleviate management problems associated with current year-end ceilings and permit agencies to hire additional part-time employees. Practical application and careful measuring of resultant improvements by the agencies will be the best test of the new ceilings.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should, in consultation with BLM, amend the Land Policy and Management Act to require a long-range renewable resource program development process for BLM. The plan should meet the major objectives of the Forest Service's resources planning act and provide for long-range, quantified resource production goals. Congress should also revise the 1872 Mining Law in accordance with recommendations made in an earlier GAO report. It should grant discretionary authority to the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to either permit or prevent development of mineral deposits on public lands, establish the means for responsible and equitable exercise of this discretionary authority, and provide for federal retention of title to the surface. It should consider modifying the Land Policy and Management Act to authorize BLM employees to ticket persons violating federal resource protection laws, similar to the authority 16 U.S.C. 559 grants to Forest Service employees. It should enact legislation which authorizes the Forest Service to sell or, in some instances, give away small, scattered land holdings which are too costly or impractical to administer properly. Further, Congress should review BLM and Forest Service staffing and funding levels and provide for a more realistic balance between the agencies' responsibilities and capabilities by either reducing responsibilities or appropriating more funds.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Forest Service to place greater emphasis on limitations, conflicts, interactions, and trade-offs among potential resource uses in future assessment and program updates. The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Forest Service and BLM to set yearly production goals during the annual programing and budgeting process which reflect unforeseen changes in production capabilities as they occur. They should also direct BLM and the Forest Service to carefully monitor and evaluate management improvements which result from the Office of Management and Budget's new work-year personnel ceilings after they have been in effect for a reasonable period; and seek higher ceilings if, in their judgment, the new ceilings fail to provide BLM and the Forest Service sufficient staff to adequately carry out their assigned land management responsibilities. Further, the Secretaries should take actions to improve access to BLM lands and to strengthen staffing and funding support for BLM and Forest Service user regulatory and maintenance programs and present the needs to the Departments for review and approval. The Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to adopt a policy for all resources similar to its policy on timber of guaranteeing access to potential developers by obtaining easements and rights-of-way.

    Agency Affected:


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Nov 5, 2018

Sep 26, 2018

Sep 21, 2018

Sep 14, 2018

Sep 5, 2018

Aug 24, 2018

Aug 16, 2018

Jul 19, 2018

Jul 17, 2018

Jul 12, 2018

Looking for more? Browse all our products here