South Florida Ecosystem RestorationA Land Acquisition Plan Would Help Identify Lands That Need to Be Acquired Gao ID: RCED-00-84 April 5, 2000
The Florida Ecosystem Restoration Initiative is a complex, long-term effort to restore the ecosystem of South Florida, including the Everglades. The Initiative involves federal, state, and local governments; tribal groups; and private interests. The South Florida Ecosystem Task Force was created in 1993 to coordinate ongoing federal restoration activities. Although land acquisition is critical to the success of the restoration effort, this ecosystem is so large that not all of the lands within it can be bought and preserved. A recent GAO report concluded that a strategic plan outlining the steps involved in restoring the ecosystem would increase the Initiative's chance of success. (See GAO/RCED-99-121, Apr. 1999.) Similarly, a land acquisition plan that clearly explains the Task Force's needs and priorities to federal and state agencies would be valuable in coordinating land acquisition efforts. Without a plan, the Task Force cannot (1) determine how much property will be needed to achieve its goals, (2) estimate the full cost to buy this property, (3) measure progress in acquiring lands for the restoration, or (4) increase the likelihood that the lands acquired are those that are most needed. This information is an important part of the status reports sent to Congress and Florida, which are jointly funding the restoration effort. The Interior Department developed a cost-sharing policy under which Florida is to match the federal funds dollar for dollar. Interior has approved four grants, but it waived the matching requirements or accepted lands in place of money for three of the grants. Florida had already acquired or was in the process of acquiring the lands that it used for matching purposes. Had Interior consistently applied its cost-sharing policy, GAO estimates that an additional $77 million would have been available to buy land. GAO summarized this report in testimony before Congress; see: South Florida Ecosystem Restoration: A Land Acquisition Plan Is Needed to Supplement the Strategic Plan Being Developed, by Jim Wells, Director of Energy, Resources, and Science Issues, before the Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies, House Committee on Appropriations. GAO/T-RCED-00-137, Apr. 5 (eight pages).
GAO noted that: (1) the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force has established ecosystem restoration goals and identified land acquisition as critical to achieving them, but it cannot acquire lands on its own; (2) instead, it must accomplish its objectives through the participating federal and state agencies; (3) this puts a premium on having a systematic acquisition plan and effective communication and coordination among the Task Force members; (4) however, the Task Force has not yet developed a land acquisition plan that identifies all of the lands needed to accomplish the goals of the restoration initiative--each federal and state agency has made independent acquisition decisions; (5) from fiscal year (FY) 1996 through FY 1999, these agencies acquired about 541,300 acres for the restoration initiative; (6) without a land acquisition plan, the Task Force cannot: (a) identify all the lands needed for the restoration initiative; (b) reasonably estimate the cost of land acquisition for the initiative; (c) measure progress in acquiring lands for the restoration; or (d) increase the chances that the lands being acquired are needed for the restoration initiative; (7) to maximize the acreage acquired with $200 million in Farm Bill grants, Interior developed a cost-sharing policy that required the state of Florida to match the federal funds dollar for dollar; (8) under this policy, the Secretary of the Interior retained the authority to waive the matching requirement; (9) Interior approved four grants, one of which the state matched dollar for dollar; (10) for the other three grants, the Secretary waived the matching requirement or accepted lands in place of funds; (11) the state had already acquired, or was in the process of acquiring, these lands that it used for matching purposes; (12) had Interior consistently applied its cost-sharing policy, GAO calculates that an additional $77 million would have been available for land acquisition; and (13) according to Interior officials, the agency did not always apply its cost-sharing policy because it wanted to give the state credit for lands that it had already acquired or was in the process of acquiring.Recommendations
Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.Director: Team: Phone: