Land Management Agencies:

Information on Selected Administrative Policies and Practices

RCED-97-40: Published: Feb 11, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 20, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the National Park Service's, Fish and Wildlife Service's, Bureau of Land Management's, and Forest Service's administrative functions, focusing on the: (1) reasons for and the costs of field-unit managers' geographic relocations; (2) authorization for and the quantity and condition of employees' rental housing; (3) requirements for providing employees' uniforms and the expenditures for them; (4) authorizations for employees' home-to-work travel in their agency's vehicles; and (5) processes by which the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service issue grazing permits and the similarities and differences between the two agencies' grazing programs.

GAO found that: (1) only the Forest Service has written policies expressing the value and necessity of relocating employees if they hold or aspire to hold managerial positions; (2) however, the importance of relocating employees is an unwritten tenet of the other three agencies' culture; (3) according to the four agencies' managers, relocations are encouraged because they allow employees to gain experience by working in different geographic areas and with different kinds of people and because relocations also infuse agencies' units with fresh ideas; (4) during October 1, 1991, through June 30, 1996, the four agencies reported spending about $8.4 million to relocate about 380 managers; (5) federal law authorizes agencies to grant housing to employees who must live on the land to provide services or protect property or to grant housing if it is not available within a reasonable commuting distance; (6) the four agencies' policies follow these criteria; (7) according to a database of the government's rental housing maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation, the four agencies had 11,464 housing units, ranging from houses to tents, as of January 1997; (8) all four agencies believe that their employees should be easily identified, and all four have policies requiring or authorizing employees to wear uniforms; (9) for fiscal year 1995, the four agencies reported spending about $8.6 million on uniforms for about 44,000 employees; (10) federal regulations limit the use of agencies' vehicles for home-to-work travel to high-level officials, employees engaged in field work, and other employees in specific circumstances; (11) the agencies' policies specify that only their Department's Secretary may authorize the use of an agency's vehicles for home-to-work travel and that such authorizations must be based on the increased efficiency and economy of government operations; (12) in practice, the three Interior agencies have authorized home-to work use of their vehicles for law enforcement personnel predominantly, although the agencies have also authorized such use for emergencies or travel to multiple locations during a day's work; and (13) the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service follow similar processes in issuing permits to ranchers to graze their livestock on federal lands, and both agencies charge the same grazing fees according to a formula set forth in law; however, differences exist in the two programs' authorizing legislation, requirements regarding the ownership of the land and livestock, and conditions for transferring grazing privileges.

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