Bureau of Land Management:

Improvements Needed in Internal Controls over Mining Law Administration Program Funds

GAO-15-562: Published: Jul 23, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 2015.

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What GAO Found

The Department of the Interior's (Interior) Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Mining Law Administration Program (mining law program) was appropriated and expended almost $40 million annually from fiscal years 2011 through 2013. Funds are to be used for mining law program activities such as administering mining claims and processing notices for mineral exploration. The mining law program's largest expenditures include personnel compensation and contractual services and supplies, which account for over 96 percent of its expenditures.

BLM has designed internal controls, including policies and procedures over mining law program funds, but some of them are inconsistent, outdated, and not effectively communicated. GAO's statistical tests of fiscal year 2013 nonpayroll mining law program expenditures showed that BLM did not effectively implement controls to reasonably assure that such mining law program transactions were properly recorded and supported.

Estimated Percentages of Control Deficiencies in Nonpayroll Expenditures of the Mining Law Administration Program (Mining Law Program) for Fiscal Year 2013

Estimated Percentages of Control Deficiencies in Nonpayroll Expenditures of the Mining Law Administration Program (Mining Law Program) for Fiscal Year 2013

Note: All percentage estimates from the tests have margins of error at the 95 percent confidence level of plus or minus 9 percentage points or less.

In addition, in interviews conducted at selected BLM offices, GAO found that some employees were charging hours of work to the mining law program based on funding allocations or supervisor instructions rather than the actual work performed, as required by BLM policies. While these examples cannot be generalized to all BLM employees, they illustrate control deficiencies that increase the risk that BLM employees are not charging the program correctly.

GAO found that internal control implementation deficiencies were the result of design flaws in BLM's policies and procedures as well as the lack of training and monitoring to reinforce them. Because of these deficiencies, BLM does not have reasonable assurance that mining law program expenditures relate to or are reasonably allocated to the program. As a result, the information in BLM's financial records may be at risk of not reflecting the actual cost of the mining law program.

Why GAO Did This Study

BLM's mining law program is responsible for managing the exploration and development of minerals, such as gold, silver, and copper, on federal land. The program is funded through fees collected from holders of mining claims and sites, subject to limits in annual appropriations acts, and is appropriated funds from the Department of the Treasury to the extent that the actual fees collected fall short of such limits.

GAO was asked to review the funding and spending of the mining law program. This report discusses (1) the amounts appropriated and expended for the program and (2) the extent to which BLM designed and implemented internal controls to reasonably assure that designated funds are spent only on mining law program operations. To address these objectives, GAO (1) reviewed relevant BLM policies and procedures and financial data, (2) conducted tests on a statistical random sample of fiscal year 2013 nonpayroll expenditures, and (3) interviewed BLM officials and employees.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that BLM (1) review and update its mining law program policies and procedures, as necessary; (2) establish procedures for communicating such changes; (3) develop and implement a related training program; and (4) regularly monitor compliance with its policies and procedures. Interior generally agreed with the findings, concurred with GAO's recommendations, and described actions taken or planned to address each recommendation.

For more information, contact Beryl H. Davis at (202) 512-2623 or davisbh@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Interior's (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) performed a comprehensive review of its policies for mining law program expenditures, which resulted in DOI BLM updating its (1) Fund Code Handbook (dated August 2016) to, among other things, reflect agency's current policy on the appropriate expenditures of Mining Law Administration Program (MLAP) funds; (2) BLM Manual MS-3800 to reinforce the policy for expenditures of MLAP; and (3) Annual Work Plan (AWP) Directive to provide specific direction to ensure that appropriated dollars for all BLM programs, including the MLAP, are properly expended and recorded in the BLM's financial systems for all BLM offices. DOI officials indicated that the issuance of the updated Fund Code Handbook and BLM Manual MS-3800 precluded the need for the instruction memorandums, which were also mentioned in the recommendation. We reviewed DOI BLM's updated policy documentation and believe that DOI's BLM has addressed our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To strengthen BLM's controls and reasonably assure accountability over mining law program expenditures, both payroll and nonpayroll, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the Bureau of Land Management to perform a comprehensive review of applicable temporary directives, including instruction memorandums, related to mining law program expenditures and update or incorporate them into permanent policies in BLM's Fund Coding Handbook or relevant manuals, as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In support of closing this recommendation, officials from the Department of Interior's (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) provided us with an example of its timely communication (dated September 20, 2016) to BLM employees to announce the issuance of its revised Fund Code Handbook (dated August 12, 2016). They also re-iterated their policy about sending updates regarding guidance changes, which is included in its directives handbook. We reviewed the directives handbook and verified that it contains guidance for communicating policy and procedural changes affecting the mining law program's expenditure-related processes. However, we were unable to determine what procedures were established to ensure the regular and timely communication to all employees of policy and procedural changes take place. While we see the directives handbook is a good start towards meeting the intent of our recommendation, we did not see evidence within the directives handbook that requires these communications to be sent to employees within a specific timeframe (e.g., within 30 days of issuance of policy and procedural changes). We will continue to monitor the agency's actions to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To strengthen BLM's controls and reasonably assure accountability over mining law program expenditures, both payroll and nonpayroll, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the Bureau of Land Management to establish procedures for regular and timely communication to all BLM employees on policy and procedural changes affecting the mining law program's expenditure-related processes.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Interior's (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agreed with our recommendation. On September 22, 2016, DOI's BLM informed us that the training material that will address this recommendation has been developed and reviewed by the BLM's Mining Law Administration Program and Budget leads. The BLM's National Training Center is currently preparing the training to be posted to "DOI Learn", the Department of the Interior's training portal. Once the training is ready for use, BLM anticipates issuing an Information Memorandum that directs targeted staff to complete the training. At the present time, the training is expected to be ready by end of fiscal year 2017. We will continue to monitor the agency's actions to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To strengthen BLM's controls and reasonably assure accountability over mining law program expenditures, both payroll and nonpayroll, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the Bureau of Land Management to develop and implement a training program that provides all BLM employees with an understanding of the use of the mining law program funds to reasonably assure uniform application and effective execution of BLM policies and procedures. This training, to be successful, should be provided to all BLM employees who charge the program and communicate clear instructions on how employees should charge, document, and review transactions related to mining law program expenditures.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Interior's (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agreed with our recommendation. On September 22, 2016, DOI's BLM informed us that DOI's BLM is developing a repeatable standardized annual internal control process which will include validation of Mining Law Administration Program (MLAP) expenditure transactions utilizing a "canned" report that is generated from the Financial Business Management System (FBMS), which is DOI's BLM's financial accounting system. This process will be incorporated into an existing DOI's BLM-wide budgetary review cycle requirement, such as the formal mid-year or 3rd quarter fiscal year reviews. The MLAP expenditures report will be distributed to DOI?s BLM state offices with instructions to obtain an adequate sample size from which to test MLAP fund transactions for compliance with Bureau policy. State budget officials will be required to identify their findings, corrective actions and certify the results from this exercise. It is anticipated that this requirement will be disseminated to the DOI's BLM state offices by Instruction Memorandum. The source report to be used for these reviews is still in the development stage and it is expected to be completed by end of fiscal year 2017. We will continue to monitor the agency's actions to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To strengthen BLM's controls and reasonably assure accountability over mining law program expenditures, both payroll and nonpayroll, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the Bureau of Land Management to develop and implement internal control activities for regularly monitoring compliance with expenditure-related policies and procedures in the mining law program. These activities should, at a minimum, (1) determine whether transactions were recorded to the correct subactivity and verified by an approving official and (2) assure that documentary evidence of review is maintained, as required in BLM's policies and procedures.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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