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GOP Lawmakers Want Inventory of All Federally Owned Lands

May 2, 2019, 10:00 PM

Republicans in the House and Senate will shortly introduce legislation to create a national database of all the land the federal government owns.

The need for the bill arises from a surprising fact: The government doesn’t know how much property it owns, according to an aide to Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), who will introduce the House version.

Several scattered databases do exist, but there’s no comprehensive inventory, the aide said. That lack of information creates problems when agencies want to make judgments on resource development and land leasing, according to the aide.

Known as the Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform (FLAIR) Act, the measure would require the Interior Department to develop and maintain a list of all the land, buildings, and other structures the federal government owns.

The bill is expected to have Democratic support, according to the Westerman aide.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) is expected to introduce a companion version in the Senate, according to one of his aides.

‘Reduce the Ambiguity’

“You can’t come up with a household budget without first understanding how much you spend each month,” Westerman said. “Likewise, the federal government can’t address its infrastructure needs or maintenance backlogs without first knowing what property it controls.”

Cramer said the bill would “improve management of federal lands and reduce the ambiguity that often hamstrings the federal government.”

The lawmakers also expect that eliminating or consolidating duplicative inventories that now exist will save the government money.

Other parts of the bill would require the Interior Department to report to Congress on its progress in developing the inventory.

Currently, government decision-makers must rely on “more than 100 duplicative, stove-piped, noninteroperable legacy property management systems,” said John Palatiello, president of surveying consultancy John M. Palatiello & Associates, Inc., in a statement circulated by Cramer’s office.

A similar bill, the Geospatial Data Act, passed in the last Congress as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s reauthorization and signed into law by President Donald Trump.

The FLAIR Act is designed to build on that legislation, which carves out exemptions for Indian tribes and national security related data.

In an October 2018 report on the Geospatial Data Act, the Congressional Research Service concluded that “stakeholders have long recognized the need to better organize and manage geospatial data among federal agencies and among the federal government, local and state authorities, the private sector, and academia.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Pamela Atkins at patkins@bloomberglaw.com

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