Westerman Testifies on FLAIR Act

September 19, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) testified before the Natural Resources Committee in favor of H.R. 2485, the Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform (FLAIR) Act.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’d like to first thank my colleague from Wisconsin, Mr. Kind, for introducing this sound, bipartisan legislation. I’d also like to recognize my former colleague, Senator Cramer, for continuing the fight for smart governmental reform in the upper chamber.

“Mr. Chairman, as we legislate in the age of Twitter and 24-hour news cycles, it seems like we pay little attention to rational, practical or commonsense ideas. In this era of polarization, it seems folks prefer confrontation to legislation. This bill represents something different. It represents a return to good governance, to common sense.

“Mr. Chairman, the Interior Department alone uses 26 different financial management systems and more than 100 different property management systems nationwide. If you multiply this number by the number of agencies and departments spread across the federal government, we are looking at hundreds, if not thousands, of different management programs.

“Even worse, none of these systems talk to one another. Employees frequently must duplicate data, inputting things like procurement data or financial information into multiple programs, each with their own codes and processes.

“The GAO estimates that the federal government wastes $2 billion per year on unneeded federal property. That statistic, mind you, only covers federal buildings because GSA doesn’t survey federal land, and the most recent official Interior report on lands suitable for disposal is from 1997.

“It’s plain and simple: because of the overwhelming number of systems, codes, and processes needed to keep track of what the federal government owns, we are losing things.

“Moreover, we are wasting taxpayer dollars, and the inefficiency has a real impact back in our districts. Take this example: I have a constituent in my district who decided to build a cabin on private land surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest. He wanted to get a power pole strung along the existing Forest Service road that provided access.

“Everything was good to go – the Forest Service signed off on the environmental analysis, the power company agreed to come drop the poles in, and then, nothing. For six months. Turns out the Forest Service survey lacked an accurate wilderness boundary – that information was contained in a separate system. No problem, just move the poles to the other side of the road, right? The Forest Service approved it again, power company was ready to go, but still nothing for three additional months. Turns out, the new route skirts a historical burial ground, information which, coincidentally, was on a separate system.

“Mr. Chairman, I wish that this was a unique case, but my office receives enough casework of this nature to fill a full-time position – everything from constantly changing ATV access to vacant lots which take years to come off the federal books.

“I’ve often said that an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure. H.R. 2485 is the ounce of prevention this problem needs. This bill takes thousands of different information systems and puts them into one coherent program.

“If implemented, it will allow federal employees from DOI to communicate with USDA about the state of BLM rangeland health surrounding some at-risk timberland. If implemented, GSA will be able to differentiate which NPS properties need addressing as deferred maintenance, and which properties have exceeded their lifespan.

“The list goes on and on. Will this bill cost money upfront? Yes it will. But what the CBO score won’t tell you is the money this measure will save. A streamlined system will empower our federal agencies to make better choices faster, easier and cheaper for the American taxpayer. This, in turn, will lead to more economic growth as infrastructure wait times decrease, and excess property is offloaded to small businesses. 

“We need bills like the Federal Lands Asset Inventory Reform, bills that take commonsense approaches to little problems, and do it in a bipartisan way. American taxpayers are losing money as federal employees struggle to keep track of hundreds of complex, incompatible systems. That’s something we should all be able to fix.”

Click here to watch Westerman’s full statement.

Background

Westerman and U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) introduced the Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform (FLAIR) Act on May 3, 2019. This bill is a bipartisan, bicameral effort to create a single database for lands owned by the federal government.

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