- SPECIAL REPORTS
- THE MAGAZINE
Think back to when you were a child. Elementary school. Summer camp. Mom probably wrote your name in your underwear and on all of your belongings to "brand" your property. As you grew older, your underwear and pencil box became a vehicle registration, and house and land title. Now, your deficits are recorded in credit reports and you are required to report your assets to the IRS. Basically, details about your possessions are at the disposal of most anyone who wishes to know about them.
What about the government? Shouldn't it be held accountable for its holdings? The federal government owns more than 55 percent of the western region of the United States-and an estimated 79 percent of Nevada alone. The citizens of this nation that claims to be powered by a doctrine of private property should know which acres are owned by the federal government, where those boundaries are and what the land is used for. But the government can't supply this information in full. Because the government doesn't know what it owns.
Even though acts passed in 1976 and 1978, followed by challenges from the National Academy of Sciences and the General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office) over the years up to and including this year, have probed for an updated and responsible federal land inventory, one has not been completed. This is unfair to taxpayers. It's not helpful to state and local governments. It wastes resources. A lack of a current inventory prevents the best use for land parcels and may also be harming us environmentally. And without a current inventory of land assets, the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Statement 34 passed in mid-1999 isn't being obeyed. GASB 34 calls for accrual accounting of all government activities and capital assets, including land and easements, and infrastructure assets (bridges, sewers, dams, lighting systems, sidewalk systems and tunnels).
What should an inventory tell us? It should tell us how much land the government actually owns and where this acreage is. It should divulge how this land is being put to use-and whether it could be put to better use. It should reveal if land is actually surplus and able to be sold for revenue, which could in turn help our budget. In addition to potentially helping our federal budget, the inventory could aid us environmentally to use land and resources more wisely. Numerous records show that, with the government as owner, national parks are in need of major maintenance and under severe contamination threats; park acres and other land parcels are at high risk of fire; and resources are either wasted or misused.
Could it really be beneficial? We can look to local government examples of successful Geographic Information System (GIS) implementation for proof that a federal land inventory would be a positive move for citizens, taxpayers and residents. Numerous GIS have aided local government agencies in saving millions of dollars, identifying untaxed parcels, appropriately delegating employees to complete projects efficiently, and discovering tax loopholes.
Section 1711(b) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 states that: "As funds and manpower are made available, the Secretary [of the Interior] shall ascertain the boundaries of the public lands"¦" Perhaps the lack of money and labor explain why our inventory is so outdated. But there are solutions in this area as well. For one, as you'll read on page 14, the Bureau of Land Management has funded the Oregon Institute of Technology geomatics program to address current surveyor shortages. And I'm certain that surveyors everywhere would be happy to accept jobs to take inventory of beautiful government land if provided the opportunity.
Maybe they'll have this chance-if the Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform (FLAIR) Act is passed. As reported in our June issue, the FLAIR Act would require the Secretary to identify "current inventories, their cost and a proposal for eliminating or consolidating duplicative inventories into a multi-purpose inventory" and would require the Secretary to "report the identity of the current inventories to Congress and include recommendations for any further legislation necessary to increase the cost savings and enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of replacing, eliminating or consolidating real property inventories." Potentially, the Secretary could enter into cost-sharing arrangements with states to include non-federal lands in the inventory.
Your mom didn't want your pencil box taken by another child. And we shouldn't let our lands be misused or unused by the government.