NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Department of the Interior: Proposing Spending Cuts

February 8, 2012

The Department of the Interior oversees more than 500 million acres of land through the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Reclamation.  Much of this land is productive, rich in natural resources, and of great value by market rates.  Nevertheless, the department runs persistent and significant deficits every year, says Chris Edwards, the director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute.

  • Interior spent about $21 billion in fiscal year 2011.
  • This total was moderately offset by revenue from two sources: $8 billion for the use of its lands and resources and $5 billion from charges on Outer Continental Shelf energy activities.
  • Taking into account these offsetting revenues, the total net outlay for the department totals $8 billion.

The Interior Department, as an overseer of vast lands, properties and parks, should seek to decentralize this ownership among responsible buyers.  The benefits of such a policy would be threefold.

  • First, the government would not be left with upkeep responsibilities, thereby reducing the aforementioned costs to taxpayers.
  • Second, by tailoring its sales and transfers of ownership to responsible parties, the properties themselves will benefit from more qualified and dedicated ownership.
  • Finally, gradual decentralization would allow for market efficiency gains as the resources in question are priced more appropriately, barring government market intervention.

For those detractors that remain wary of transferring ownership of federal properties, it should also be kept in mind that transfers to state governments is a viable option as well.  Minor parks, dams and continuing land reclamation projects can all be managed by state lawmakers, and gains can be made as politicians at that level tailor new acquisitions to the state's needs.

Source: Chris Edwards, "Department of the Interior: Proposing Spending Cuts,", February 2012.

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