FLAIR Act: Good for Property Rights, Good for Fiscal Responsibility

On Thursday, Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform (FLAIR) Act into the Senate. The FLAIR Act would require the federal government to work with the private sector to create a single, up-to-date, inventory of federal land holdings. This bill will reduce waste, improve government operations, potentially help the economy, and benefit private property-owners.

This legislation is long overdue, for several major reasons. First, the current system of government land inventory is a Kafkaesque amalgamation of literally hundreds of different databases, which are neither mutually compatible nor checked for redundancy. As former Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton noted in 2005:

“The Department currently uses… over 100 different property systems. Employees must enter procurement transactions multiple times in different systems so that the data are captured in real property inventories, financial systems, and acquisition systems. This fractured approach is both costly and burdensome to manage.”

Indeed, the Government Accountability Office has noted that federal land procurement and management was a high risk area, among the most prone to waste, fraud, and abuse. Both the GAO and the National Academy of Sciences, as well as several other non-partisan organizations, have supported previous efforts aimed at consolidation of federal land databases. Indeed, the NAS has been calling for reforms of this kind for three full decades.

Besides increasing efficiency and saving tax dollars, FLAIR is also beneficial for economic and property rights reasons. The bill, Hatch stated: “will help the federal and state governments know what lands are available for sale and how much energy and other resources are available on those holdings for development.” The Property Rights Alliance has consistently pointed out the waste resulting from under-use or disuse of federally-owned land, noting that several thousand federal properties are currently idle and could be sold to private citizens or businesses for more productive purposes. This bill greatly aids the efforts to reduce excessive federal land-holdings.

The FLAIR Act is a common-sense reform which uses simple technological and data-management fixes to repair an extremely inefficient system. In doing so, it will lower costs, improve government management, and assist property-owners by giving them an accurate picture of the lands available and the resources they contain. This legislation is long overdue and has no downside. The Senate should be encouraged to act on it as quickly as possible.