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Highlights

In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the programs that the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Forest Service and the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) use to plan, negotiate, and implement land exchanges.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture 1. The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief, Forest Service, and the Director, BLM, respectively, to comply with the laws governing land exchanges that do not allow the adjustment of appraised values.
Closed - Not Implemented
USDA disagreed with this recommendation. GAO maintains that USDA is not in compliance with FLPMA because USDA officials rounded land value amounts to achieve equalization in land exchanges. This point was raised with the USDA official again. The GAO position was not disputed, however, the official stated that USDA was firm in its position and still plans to take no action.
Department of the Interior 2. The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief, Forest Service, and the Director, BLM, respectively, to comply with the laws governing land exchanges that do not allow the adjustment of appraised values.
Closed - Implemented
BLM was directed to and has sent instructions to its state offices stating that rounding appraisals for the sole purpose of equalizing exchange values is unacceptable.
Department of the Interior 3. The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, BLM, to comply with the FLPMA requirement that does not allow waiver of cash equalization payments.
Closed - Implemented
BLM was directed to and has sent a letter to state offices instructing them that the waiver of cash equalization payments is not allowed under FLPMA.
Department of Agriculture 4. The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief, Forest Service, to issue guidance defining which costs should be recorded as part of the exchange process.
Closed - Not Implemented
USDA disagreed with this recommendation and, therefore, plans to take no action. USDA maintains that breaking down the cost to be recorded would require more resources for limited gain. GAO maintains that USDA current cost data is not reliable, and that reliable data is needed to respond to Congress. However, USDA is firm on its position.
Department of Agriculture 5. The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief, Forest Service, and the Director, BLM, respectively, to evaluate the use of pooling to determine whether it is in their interest to continue using it. If pooling is continued, then the agencies should develop policies to promote and control its use.
Closed - Implemented
Both USDA and Interior have determined that pooling is a viable approach and have jointly revised and reissued their new land exchange regulations to include common structures and terms. Publication of the new regulations will implement the recommendation.
Department of the Interior 6. The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, BLM, to include a line-item for land exchanges in its proposed budget.
Closed - Not Implemented
Interior disagreed with this recommendation and, therefore, has taken no action. BLM believes that a line-item would constrain the agencies' ability to shift work-load emphasis, and would be very costly for limited gain. GAO maintains that federal agencies must maintain certain accounting standards. Line-item budgeting is one of them; however, the agency is firm on its position.
Department of the Interior 7. The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, BLM, to institute a system to account for the costs associated with land exchanges.
Closed - Not Implemented
Interior disagreed with this recommendation and, therefore, has taken no action. In 1985, BLM adopted a new coding system, which will allow them to track state and private exchanges. However, BLM will not add a project code for land exchanges because officials do not believe it will improve decisionmaking. GAO maintains that BLM has not fully assessed the benefits of such action.

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