GAO Report Reveals Oversight by BLM of Permitting, Leasing

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued earlier this week, which highlighted the failure of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to keep close tabs on public challenges of agency permitting and leasing decisions, revealed that BLM "[is] operating a program here with lackadaisical oversight," said a spokesman for the House Resources Committee.

"It's tantamount to running a business without knowing what's in inventory or the shipping times," noted spokesman Brian Kennedy. Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) requested that the GAO conduct an analysis of the number of public challenges of BLM's permitting and leasing decisions, and the delays that they have caused to oil and natural gas drilling.

But the report "has not given us any answers to the questions that the chairman asked originally," Kennedy noted. That's because the Interior Department's BLM does not maintain data on public challenges, nor does it give any clear guidance to its state offices on how to collect and enter the data, he said.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that challenges cause [production] delays. But we were looking to quantify that and craft solutions," Kennedy told NGI. "This [report] tells us nothing" in terms of quantifiable solutions.

The BLM "needs to get its act together" to standardize the collection and use of data on public challenges, he said. "At the very least, he [Pombo] will be urging the BLM to [require] state offices to collect and enter this kind of data so we can have a better understanding of the flaws in leasing and permitting" to get more energy online.

Kennedy noted that the permitting and leasing processes should each take only 30 days. But due to challenges and other delays, producers are waiting 180 days to receive their permits, and sometimes more than 180 days to obtain leases, he said.

In its report, the GAO recommended that the BLM take actions to improve its management of its oil and gas program by standardizing the collection of public challenge data at the leasing stage for onshore federal lands.

At the present, "BLM has a system that state offices use to collect data on public challenges during leasing, but the state offices use it inconsistently because they lack clear guidance from headquarters on which data to enter. As a result, the system does not provide consistent information that BLM headquarters can use to assess workload impacts on its state offices and to make staffing and funding resource allocation decisions," the report said.

(Copyright 2004 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.

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