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Written by Ethan Bartonon

Department of the Interior (DOI) officials have no idea how much land was bought with $815 million, nor if the properties are being used for their intended purpose, a government watchdog reported Wednesday.

The department’s officials couldn’t provide its inspector general (IG) with data about its land purchase programs, the watchdog’s report said. The IG consequently surveyed 108 programs and found that just 16 of those awarded 701 grants between 2014 and 2015 to purchase $815 million worth of land.

DOI “does not centrally track information about grants awarded for the purpose of acquiring land,” the IG said. “As such, DOI is unable to identify how much grant money has been used to purchase land, how much land has been purchased and whether that land is being used for its intended purpose. Without an adequate process in place to monitor funds used to purchase land, DOI is potentially exposed to significant risk of wasted funds.”

Additionally, less than half of the 278 grant recipients reported their land inventories to the DOI programs that funded them, which violated federal regulations, according to the report.

With “less than 44 percent of grantees reporting … we are concerned that both the awarding agencies and the grantees are either unaware or noncompliant,” the report said. The failure to provide inventories, “coupled with the fact that DOI is not tracking the awards centrally, could hamper monitoring efforts to ensure that land is being used properly.”

The IG found one case where a bar was built on conservation land and another where “a reservoir designated for breeding fish stock had been completely drained,” the report said.

The IG noted their data is likely incomplete, meaning the watchdog’s figures were likely underestimated. The “number of grants and land value could be substantially higher than what we were able to determine through our survey,” the report said.

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