NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Heritage Study: Problems In Federal Land Management

May 18, 1999

The federal government now owns one-third of the land in the United States, most of which is managed by four federal agencies -- the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and National Park Service.

But recent reports by the federal government's own watchdogs conclude these agencies are not doing a good job. For example:

  • The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that the cost of eliminating the agencies' backlog of maintenance problems on public lands exceeds $12 billion.
  • The Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Agriculture found serious accounting deficiencies in the Forest Service, including "pervasive errors" in data supporting "land, buildings, equipment, accounts receivable, and accounts payable."
  • A Congressional Research Service analyst found that a 1996 GAO study did not use a General Services Administration analysis of the amount of land each agency managed because of discrepancies between the GSA's numbers and those reported by the agencies.
  • In April 1999, the Congressional Budget Office recommended that because federal land management agencies find it difficult to maintain operations on their existing land holdings, Congress should place a ten-year moratorium on future appropriations for land acquisition.

The CBO observed that " many instances, the National Park Service, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management find it difficult to maintain and finance operations on their existing land holdings....[E]nvironmental objectives such as habitat protection and access to recreation might be best met by improving management in currently held areas, rather than providing minimal management over a larger domain."

Despite such internal management problems, both President Bill Clinton and Congress have proposed establishing trust funds with billions of dollars to purchase even more federal land which then would fall under these agencies' control.

Source: Alexander F. Annett, "The Federal Government's Poor Management of America's Land Resources," Backgrounder No. 1282, May 17, 1999, Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002, (202) 546-4400.


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