by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel
“Cadastre” is an early 19th Century word describing a property inventory used to allocate taxes. The word has just found its way into federal law, thanks to an amendment added to the recent 4,155-page “omnibus” appropriations bill. The new section refers to an inventory of federal lands, which are not taxed at all, so technically it may be an inaccurate use of the word cadastre. But either way, the inventory is long overdue.
It is hard to imagine any property owner with no idea how much land he owns or where it is, but that is the U.S. government. Not even an educated guess has ever been produced, though Congress has asked for it, and presidents have ordered it. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published several reports, all concluding that the government has no idea how much property it owns, where it is all located, who manages it, what condition it is in, or how it is used.
The government spends billions “managing” its properties. But it must be difficult, nay impossible, to manage property officials don’t know they have, or for which there is no government purpose, such as the land under the old RFK Stadium, or the dozens of D.C. city streets owned by the National Park Service, or thousands of buildings throughout America that are not occupied by any government agency.
At congressional hearings 18 years ago, the Interior Department testified that it used over 100 different property management systems, and to this day there has been no consolidation. No department could testify to exactly how much property it owned, nor could the General Services Administration (GSA), officially the government’s property manager.