The Corps of Engineers Should Revise Its Policy for Identifying Unneeded Land

RCED-85-41: Published: Mar 22, 1985. Publicly Released: Mar 22, 1985.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reported on the Army Corps of Engineers' program to identify unused and underused land for sale, discussing the federal land disposal requirements which must be met before land can be sold and the effect that selling federal land can have on land users.

Federal agencies are required to continuously survey property under their control and report excess property found to the General Services Administration for possible disposal. The Corps has developed a 5-year schedule for conducting periodic land utilization surveys to identify for disposal land which would not have been acquired under its acquisition policy for water resource projects. In 1982, the Corps identified 35,000 acres as not needed for project purposes, and an additional 2,148 acres were reported as excess in 1984. GAO found that, because the Corps retains full title to land expected to be periodically flooded, it has not considered some land for possible disposal even though the land is not needed for project purposes. GAO believes that some of this land could be offered for sale if flowage easements were retained where needed. At five projects, GAO identified 16,682 acres of unneeded land which is subject to occasional flooding. Twenty-nine percent of this land is leased to farmers or ranchers, and the Corps receives a lease income of $194,000 of which 75 percent is paid to local governments for water projects. This land could be sold for approximately $7 million. However, before the land could be sold, costly and time-consuming studies must be conducted to comply with federal land disposal requirements. Furthermore, the land sales would affect the farmers and ranchers and decrease revenues to local governments.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Corps of Engineers' policy for identifying unneeded land was revised as recommended, with the likelihood that more unneeded land would be identified in the future. The amount of land and sales prices are not determinable.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Chief of Engineers to revise the Corps' policy for identifying unneeded land to not automatically exclude for possible disposal land which is occasionally flooded. Such land, if determined excess after further study, could be sold with easements to fully protect the government's interests. This revised policy should be used during all future annual inspections and 5-year land utilization surveys to determine the need to retain project lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army


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