Federal Land Management: BLM and the Forest Service Have Improved Oversight of the Land Exchange Process, but Additional Actions Are Needed Page: 2 of 126
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Accountability* Integrity* Reliability
Highlights of GAO-09-611, a report to the
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment,
and Related Agencies, Committee on
Appropriations, House of Representatives
Why GAO Did This Study
The Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) in the Department of the
Interior (Interior) and the Forest
Service in the Department of
Agriculture (USDA) manage
millions of acres of public land. To
enhance land management and
fulfill other public objectives, they
acquire and dispose of land using
exchanges-trading federal lands
for lands owned by willing private
entities, individuals, or state or
local governments. GAO and others
have raised concerns about
whether the public interest has
always been served in these land
GAO was asked to (1) analyze the
number, trends, and characteristics
of BLM and Forest Service land
exchanges and (2) determine the
effectiveness of agency actions to
address previously identified key
problems. GAO interviewed and
surveyed agency officials, analyzed
agency data on recent exchanges,
and reviewed documents on a
nongeneralizable sample of 31 land
exchanges representing at least 85
percent of the acres that agencies
acquired, or plan to acquire, during
the time of GAO's review.
GAO is making recommendations
to, among other things, strengthen
agencies' oversight of the land
exchange process, realty staff
training, planning for exchanges,
and tracking of their costs. Forest
Service generally agreed with
GAO's recommendations. Interior
did not comment on the
View GAO-09-611 or key components.
For more information, contact Robin M.
Nazzaro at (202) 512-3841 or
FEDERAL LAND MANAGEMENT
BLM and the Forest Service Have Improved Oversight
of the Land Exchange Process, but Additional
Actions Are Needed
What GAO Found
From October 2004 through June 2008, BLM and the Forest Service processed
250 completed, pending, or terminated land exchanges. Completion times for
exchanges within this period varied widely, from 2 months to more than 12
years. These exchanges involved 628,429 federal acres and 621,588 nonfederal
acres. According to agency officials, the number of exchanges since 2000 has
generally declined because of the availability of qualified staff and funding and
the lower priority given to land exchanges compared with other activities. Of
the 250 land exchanges, 47 were facilitated by third parties, 9 were conducted
in multiple phases, and 20 were specifically legislated by Congress.
GAO, the agencies' inspectors general, and others identified problems in the
agencies' land exchange programs and have made recommendations to
correct them. The agencies have taken actions to address most of these
problems, but the effectiveness of the actions has been mixed. Specifically:
* According to most agency officials surveyed, headquarters reviews at least
somewhat improved exchange quality; often ensured that exchanges
complied with laws, regulations, and policies; and were processed properly.
However, the reviews did not always document problems or indicate their
resolution, making the process less transparent.
* BLM stopped using interest-bearing accounts outside of the U.S. Treasury,
according to agency officials, and issued new guidance on managing
ledgers, which are used to track land value imbalances over time in
multiphase exchanges. However, the agency is not always adhering to this
guidance and, therefore, cannot fully know how much is owed.
Specifically, BLM cannot be assured that the $2.6 million land value
imbalance due to the United States, recorded in its ledgers as of June 30,
2008, is accurate.
* Both agencies issued new guidance to require full disclosure of the
relationship between a third-party facilitator and other parties to an
exchange. But the guidance does not clearly define third-party facilitators
and officials do not consistently apply the disclosure policy. Without
consistent application, the agencies fail to obtain critical information and
potentially risk losing the ability to control the exchange process.
* The agencies updated their exchange guidance to provide clearer
direction on exchanges and incorporated it into their training. However,
staff generally are not required to attend this training, and the agencies do
not systematically track staff participation. Therefore, the agencies
cannot ensure that realty staff develop and maintain necessary skills.
* The agencies took steps to improve appraisal timeliness, but the process,
particularly for BLM, continues to delay some exchanges, officials said.
Neither agency has a national strategy to guide land transactions, nor does
either track all costs of individual exchanges. Developing national strategies
and tracking the costs of individual exchanges will enhance the agencies'
ability to make informed decisions in pursuit of shared goals.
.United States Government Accountability Office
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Federal Land Management: BLM and the Forest Service Have Improved Oversight of the Land Exchange Process, but Additional Actions Are Needed, report, June 12, 2009; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc295541/m1/2/: accessed January 16, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.