Agriculture and Interior Department officials say it is doubtful they will be able to offer--let alone sell--$2 billion worth of unneeded federal land annually, as the administration calls for in its fiscal 1983 budget proposal.
The budget projects that the administration's land sales initiative would raise $4 billion in new revenues in fiscal 1984, about half from Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service property sales. The other half would be raised by selling property controlled by other federal agencies.
The main reason BLM may have trouble meeting the goal, at least for a couple years, officials say, is Interior Secretary James G. Watt's acclerated "Good Neighbor" policy, which is designed to turn over parcels of federal property to state and local governments at a discount price or for free. The administration's plan calls for ending such transfers, as the General Services Administration has done already for property owned by other agencies.
Officials also said the projected revenues can't be realized as long as the real estate market is depressed.
"I don't know where Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman got his figures to make that projection," said Richard D. Hull, the Forest Service's director of lands. "We just don't have that kind of valuable land lying around out there." Hull said he has told OMB officials that their numbers are unrealistic.
At BLM, staff members agreed that there may be no more than a couple billion dollars' worth of agency land available for public sale, "and that means on a one-shot basis," not year after year, said Jeff Steele, of the lands division.
"If the political appointees decide they want to put up a couple of billion dollars worth of public land every year, they'll do it," said another source in the lands division. "But they won't sell it; the market is just not there."
OMB spokesman Edwin L. Dale Jr. said, "At this point, we would have no direct comment on what the agencies are doing. However, I want to note that the figures we projected were an estimate, and we're at least encouraged that this much has happened already."
At this point, BLM plans to offer about 5 million acres for sale in fiscal 1984, virtually all of it in the lower 48 states. BLM analyst William Krech estimated the fair market value of the property at $1.7 billion. (BLM currently manages 174 million acres in the lower 48 states, plus 167 million acres in Alaska.)
But Interior is still trying to accommodate 198 requests from state and local governments for 943,629 acres of federal property in the West. A year after Watt promised to speed up such transfers, 103 parcels covering only 9,969 acres have been turned over.
Krech said that under the land sales initiative, BLM "would like to sell the dregs of the dregs instead of selling off the good land that should remain in public management."
For example, he said, 60,000 acres of BLM land is spread out in states east of the Mississippi River. "Virtually all of this is unmanageable, because it is so spread out," he said, although on paper it is prime acreage to sell. BLM set up an office in the East in the 1950s to sell off the land, but little has been so far.
The Forest Service, meanwhile, is planning to offer about 200,000 acres, 150,000 acres of which are small parcels near residential areas or mining claims or tracts reserved as rights-of-way. Most of the rest are parcels already targeted for fair-market exchanges with other governments or for sale to individuals.