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For Immediate Release: Jan 20, 2003
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

INTERIOR PLEDGES TO REFORM LAND EXCHANGES

Critics Skeptical Whether Steps Remove Politics and Prevent Scams


Washington, DC - The Bureau of Land Management is ordering new safeguards and forming a task force in an attempt to bring order to its scandal-ridden land exchange program, according to an internal directive released today by the Western Land Exchange Project (WLXP) and PEER.

Following a scathing report by the Appraisal Foundation this fall, the BLM is now girding itself for two other investigations centering around a Utah land exchange - rejected in the closing days of the last session of Congress - that would cost taxpayers an estimated $100 million despite being certified as "equivalent."In a January 8 "Instruction Memorandum," BLM pledged to remedy any "material weaknesses" that threaten the "integrity of the land exchange and appraisal programs."Effective immediately -

State Offices within BLM are stripped of authority to approve exchanges. Approval requires sign-off by the bureau's Deputy Director, James Hughes, in Washington;

Any pending exchanges in which staff has identified "errors, inconsistencies, flaws or other weaknesses...must be suspended."BLM State Directors are enjoined to protect "integrity and professional standards" in appraisals; and

BLM is forming a task force to conduct "a comprehensive evaluation of the exchange and appraisal programs."

"After years of denial, it looks as though BLM may be taking the issue of corrupt land exchanges seriously," commented WLXP director Janine Blaeloch.

"Report after report has found political interference with appraisals by Interior managers but these new measures skirt the root cause - this is not an appraisal problem, it is an integrity problem with agency management," stated PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer whose organization is representing BLM appraisers who reported problems and sought whistleblower protection. The Appraisal Foundation recommended that agency appraisers be put into a separate unit that does not answer to the managers who act as sponsors for exchanges.

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Read the BLM memo.