NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

FEDERAL LANDS ARE OFTEN UNDERUTILIZED AND NEGLECTED

March 14, 2005

The federal government owns more than 670 million acres of land, about one-third of it in the United States. But according to Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), federal agencies know little about the assets they own and how they can be put to their highest and best use.

For example:

  • In 2003, the General Services Administration identified over 5.1 million acres of federal land without any government purpose.
  • The Bureau of Land Management owns more than 3 million acres of land that is considered "vacant."
  • In the District of Columbia, 26 percent of total acreage is owned by the federal government, which could produce an estimated $400 million to $1.1 billion a year in tax revenue under private use.
  • In Rep. Cannon's home state of Utah, two-thirds of the land is federally owned, creating a large burden on state and local governments deprived of potential tax revenue.

More alarming, the land is often in a state of neglect and disrepair, says Cannon.

The federal government compensates states for lost tax revenue through a Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes program, but the money falls short of what states need for environmental compliance, firefighting, search-and-rescue operations and other services for federally-owned land. This year's budget allocates $200 million in PILT funds, $26 million less than last year.

President Bush has ordered an inventory of federal land in the District, but the inventory should extend across the United States. Moreover, the president should transfer under-utilized and surplus land to the states, says Cannon.

Source: Chris Cannon, "Freeing Up Federal Lands," Washington Times, March 8, 2005.

 

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