Want to stump your friends? Ask them how much land the federal government owns. Most likely they will tell you they have no idea. Here's the kicker-the federal government has no idea either! But with the enactment of legislation working its way through Congress and an executive order signed by President Bush in 2004, we all may soon find out.

It is estimated that the federal government owns 51.9 percent of land throughout the western states.


H.R. 1370, the Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform (FLAIR) Act of 2005, was introduced in the first quarter of last year by Representative Chris Cannon of Utah and has 20 cosponsors in the House. At this point, there is not a similar bill in the Senate. The FLAIR Act directs the Secretary of the Interior to develop a multipurpose cadastre of federal real property to assist with federal land management, resource conservation and development of real property. This includes any federal land that is no longer required to be owned by the government.

The bill defines multipurpose cadastre as an inventory of real property of the federal government developed through collecting, storing, retrieving or disseminating graphical or digital data depicting natural or manmade physical features, phenomena, or boundaries of the earth and any information related thereto. It must include surveys, maps, charts, satellite and airborne remote sensing data, and images, with services performed by professionals such as surveyors, photogrammetrists, hydrographers, geodesists, cartographers and others of an architectural or engineering nature. The cadastre must include the following data layers: (1) a reference frame consisting of a geodetic network; (2) a series of current, accurate large-scale maps; (3) a cadastral boundary overlay delineating all cadastral parcels; (4) a system for indexing and identifying each cadastral parcel; and (5) a series of land data files, each including the parcel identifier, which can be used to retrieve information and cross reference between and among other data files, and which contains information about the use, value, infrastructure, resources and characteristics of each parcel.

The sheer size of the federal government's land holdings makes the issue of land ownership incredibly critical. It is estimated that the federal government owns 51.9 percent of land throughout the western states; therefore, federal management practices can have a serious impact not only on the economies of western states, but on the national economy as well.

The Benefits of a Federal Cadastre

While H.R. 1370 does not define what is meant by federal real property, it does generally define real property as real estate consisting of land, buildings, crops, forests or other resources still attached to or within the land or improvements or fixtures permanently attached to the land or a structure on it, including any interest, benefit, right or privilege in such property. Where E.O. 13327 gives each agency the task of taking an inventory of its own property, H.R. 1370 gives the Department of Interior the task of developing a multipurpose cadastre of all federal real property.

H.R. 1370 contains provisions that will benefit the private sector. It requires the Secretary of the Interior to use contracts with the private sector, to the maximum extent practicable, to provide such products and services as are necessary to develop the cadastre. Additionally, the legislation specifically states that the contracts entered into with the private sector shall be considered "surveying and mapping services." The legislation also states that any surveying and mapping contracts are subject to Brooks Act procurement procedures. The Brooks Act is a federal law that requires government agencies to procure A/E services through the Qualifications Based Selection (QBS) system, which selects and negotiates contracts using criteria other than cost.

Executive Order 13327 and H.R. 1370 seek to accomplish the same thing, but in slightly different ways. Between the two of them, we may finally find out exactly what real property the federal government owns.