INTERIOR:

Audit faults oversight of appraisals

The Interior Department office created to oversee billions of dollars of land appraisals is weak and undermined by other bureaus, leaving it unable to function efficiently, the Interior inspector general has found.

The Appraisal Services Directorate, or ASD, "is not the strong and independent appraisal organization" envisioned when it was created in 2003 to remedy longstanding appraisal problems, the IG evaluation said.

The Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Reclamation "remain unconvinced of the need for a consolidated organization and have repeatedly acted to regain control of the appraisal function, thus undermining ASD," the report says.

Over the past four years, Interior's appraisers have been responsible for the valuation of nearly 8 million acres of land worth almost $10 billion, the report says.

Before 2003, the department's appraisers reported to bureau managers responsible for completing land transactions, so efforts to determine fair market value frequently were compromised by pressure to "make the deal," the report says. ASD was created to protect appraisers from undue influence and enhance the reliability of department appraisals.

But ASD has been unable to fulfill that mission because it has not received support from the department or its bureaus, the report says. ASD is located within Interior's National Business Center (NBC), which has failed to provide timely services to the office, it says. Several bureaus want the appraisal function returned to them.

"The department has not acted while ASD flounders in NBC and has not responded as bureaus circumvent rules designed to maintain the accountability and credibility of the appraisal process," the report says.

ASD also suffers from a lack of leadership, it says. The office has not had a permanent chief appraiser for three years, instead having a series of acting chiefs.

The IG recommended that Interior give ASD complete control over contracting functions, select a strong chief appraiser and make it an independent office within the Office of Policy, Management and Budget.

The conference report for the 2010 Interior appropriations bill also directed Interior "to revisit the Department-wide appraisal services consolidation and immediately address the undue delays in obtaining appraisals for Federal land acquisition projects."

Click here to read the report.