The federal government has no precise way of measuring its hundreds of millions of acres in land holdings or accounting for them in a systematic manner, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) told a House committee during a hearing yesterday.

“One of my great frustrations is the fact that although the federal government owns some 640 million acres of land it is such a bad landlord. [It doesn’t] take care of this land and can’t even provide a comprehensive list of its land holdings,” McClintock said, noting the Government Accountability Office “has warned for years of these forgotten and abandoned lands.”

“How can you manage land you don’t know or care that you even own?” he asked.

The House Subcommittee on Federal Lands heard testimony on the Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform Act of 2017, or the “FLAIR Act,” which would require the Interior Secretary to develop and maintain an inventory of federal lands.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” John Palatiello, executive director of MAPPS, a national association of private sector geospatial firms, wrote in prepared testimony to the committee.

“The fact is the federal government does not know what it owns, where it owns it, what condition it is in, what its appraised or market value is, what its characteristics are, whether it is still in the public interest for the government to own it, whether it should be surplused and disposed, or what its designated use should be,” he wrote.

Palatiello cited GAO reports that chronicled what he described as a federal real estate “portfolio [that] is not well managed, many assets are no longer consistent with agency mission or needs and are therefore no longer needed, and many assets are in an alarming state of disrepair.”

A September 2016 GAO report assessing property owned by the federal government determined that “significant challenges” persisted, noting that gaps remained in the management of “real property in general and excess and underutilized property in particular.”

These challenges included a “lack of reliable data with which to measure the extent of the problem, a complex disposal process, and costly environmental requirements,” the report found.