Minerals Management at the Department of the Interior Needs Coordination and Organization

EMD-81-53: Published: Jun 5, 1981. Publicly Released: Jun 5, 1981.

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John W. Sprague
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Growing national awareness of the strategic importance and uncertain sources of some minerals is leading to development of a strategic minerals policy. In 1980, Congress enacted the National Materials and Minerals Policy Research and Development Act. The Act establishes the Executive Office of the President as the focus of policymaking in this area. Any national policy for assuring availability of such strategic minerals as cobalt, tin, chromium, and platinum must be formulated in light of the potential of federally controlled resources and the ramifications of Federal land use decisions for domestic supply of these commodities.

There is a need to improve access to Federal lands for mineral exploration and development while continuing to protect social and esthetic values. Improving access for mineral prospectors and mining operations will best take the form of clarifying the conditions under which exploration and development will be allowed to occur for all types of minerals. GAO found that the Department of Interior does not have an adequate minerals management policymaking process. Decisions affecting exploration and development of mineral resources are made without reference to larger strategies for affected commodities or markets and the satisfaction of strategic supplies. Not having a minerals management policymaking process has contributed to: (1) a lack of a a clear understanding of the public interest in federally owned mineral resources; (2) the potential for large Federal outlays to acquire valid mineral rights to resolve land use conflicts; (3) a disregard for the repercussions of decisions to limit mineral activities on affected industries; and (4) a limitation of acquisition of mineral resource information for areas closed to private industry, uncertainty as to the conditions for access and tenure needed to encourage investment in mining ventures, and delays in reaching decisions affecting access to Federal lands for mineral exploration and development. Secure sources and stable prices for mineral commodities can be overlooked or inadequately assessed. Access and tenure should be denied only where an identifiable public interest would be unnecessarily or permanently damaged.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Based on discussions with Interior officials, it is clear that no action is intended.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should develop a minerals management program plan which outlines and discusses in detail the objectives and goals of the Department of the Interior with respect to the key questions of Federal mineral resource management. The Secretary should examine how such an explicit statement of objectives could be used to evaluate and provide consistency to the Department's mineral-related budget submissions, program proposals, and administrative actions. The plan should include specific national objectives for the Department's mineral resource programs, explain criteria for establishing priorities for mineral exploration and development, examine constraints to long-term mineral management goals and alternatives for coping with them, and devise strategies for anticipating and contributing to national industrial and strategic requirements. Such a plan, developed from national objectives would, for the first time, provide criteria and standards of accountability for the Secretary and Congress to measure the performance of the Government's resource managers.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior


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