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The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), in its capacity as lead agency and in compliance with the Presidential Memorandum of February 27, 1985, submits this report for the 2004 calendar year on the implementation of the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, (Uniform Act) as amended. The Secretary of Transportation delegated the lead agency responsibility to the Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The Uniform Act applies to all programs or projects undertaken by federal agencies or with federal financial assistance that require the acquisition of real property or that cause displacement of any person.
The FHWA is committed to assuring that affected property owners and displaced persons receive the protections provided by the Uniform Act. In addition, programs and projects of benefit to the American public continue to be advanced with consideration of every party directly impacted by the federal government's programs and projects.
The activities of the FHWA in fulfilling the responsibilities of lead agency for implementing the Uniform Act are greatly appreciated by USDOT. The task has become increasingly more difficult as the complexity of projects increases due to statutory and regulatory changes, real estate market evolution, funding constraints and technological innovations that must be addressed by a diminishing number of experienced personnel in the public real estate workforce.
The report that follows was prepared by the FHWA.
As lead agency, the FHWA's primary responsibilities are to:
The Uniform Act and its implementing regulations, Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 24, have been comprehensively examined by the FHWA. During the past 24 months, the FHWA worked with the 18 affected federal departments and independent agencies to update the government-wide regulations and develop legislative proposals to improve program effectiveness. 49 CFR part 24 had not been reviewed comprehensively or updated since 1989.
The proposed changes to clarify the Uniform Act requirements meet modern needs and improve the service to individuals and businesses affected by federal or federal-aid projects, while at the same time reducing the burdens of government regulations, were announced through a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). In processing the NPRM, all affected agencies were afforded the opportunity to recommend proposed changes.
The FHWA, with concurrence from USDOT and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), published an NPRM with a 60-day comment period on the proposed changes in the Federal Register on December 17, 2003. The comment period was for the benefit of the general public. During the comment period, the FHWA sent official notification to all state governments and territories. In addition, the International Right of Way Association (IRWA) was notified. The IRWA notified its 9,000 real estate members and encouraged them to comment through a link provided to the FHWA website for any member interested in accessing the NPRM. The FHWA worked cooperatively with the IRWA to promote the issuance of the NPRM to a community of clients who typically are not aware of such regulatory initiatives. The NPRM, with supporting side-by-side documentation highlighting the proposed changes, was posted on both the FHWA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) websites.
In February 2004, FHWA held four videoconferences for FHWA field staff and other federal agency staff to comprehend the proposed changes to the NPRM. During the comment period, FHWA held three national public meetings in Colorado, Georgia and Washington, DC to offer additional opportunity for the general public stakeholders to make comments on the proposed changes. Over 120 people attended and gave comments. A total of 775 comments were received on the NPRM from a variety of sources, including local public agencies, state highway administrations, real estate and environmental consulting firms and private individuals. In March 2004, all 18 federal agencies were invited to an interagency federal taskforce meeting to evaluate and respond to comments. The FHWA held five meetings to accomplish this task prior to publication of the final rule in the Federal Register on January 4, 2005. The FHWA appreciates the close working relationship and support given by HUD and many other federal agencies in developing the revised regulations.
All Federal Agencies Uniform Act Implementation Meetings
The FHWA hosted two All Federal Agencies Uniform Act Implementation Meetings in May and November of 2004. A list is enclosed identifying the federal agencies that participated in the meetings. In addition, the meetings were available by videoconference to provide immediate nationwide assistance to the FHWA field staff and other federal agencies.
The two All Federal Agencies meetings held in 2004 focused on 1) advancing the Uniform Act and accompanying regulations, 2) providing additional opportunities for participation in the development of the final rule, and 3) standardizing the implementation of the Uniform Act to provide equal treatment of businesses and individuals on all direct federal and federally assisted programs and projects.
Several of the FHWA's field staff sponsored and encouraged interagency Uniform Act meetings in local states. These 2004 meetings provided an opportunity for federal field personnel to discuss issues of concern and share their success stories and best practices.
To assist other federal agencies in implementing the Uniform Act, the FHWA continues to share the results of its Right-of-Way Domestic Scans. The best practices and ideas are shared at the FHWA's All Federal Agencies Uniform Act implementation meetings.
In July 2004, the FHWA sponsored a Right-of-Way Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Scan in Tallahassee, Florida. The purpose of the scan was to foster peer-to-peer knowledge exchange and to share GIS best practices and experiences among more than 50 participants that included right-of-way officials from 20 states and the FHWA staff from the Florida Division and Headquarters.
In September 2004, the FHWA sponsored a domestic scan covering electronic appraisal tools, in San Antonio, Texas. The scan provided a forum for interchange among the 12 State DOTs participating in and jointly funding a study on electronic appraisal techniques. The University of Texas is the contractor performing the study. Although State DOTs are funding the research, the FHWA was the catalyst that initiated the study concept and continues to provide technical assistance. The research focuses on electronic systems for transmission and storage of real property appraisals and related valuation data. A future phase may explore the use of artificial intelligence to perform preliminary evaluation of appraisal data. The FHWA staff from the Texas and North Carolina Divisions and Headquarters facilitated and moderated the scan.
Excellence in Right-of-Way Awards
The FHWA Excellence in Right-of-Way Awards Program highlights examples of outstanding implementation of the Uniform Act. These biennial awards recognize right-of-way professionals who excel in streamlining or improving the real property acquisition process, while ensuring the protection of the rights and benefits of property owners and tenants.
In May 2004, the FHWA awards for Excellence in Right-of-Way were presented in Seattle, Washington. The winners of the following categories were:
Honorable mention awards were also given in the five categories. The FHWA believes that by recognizing these achievements, right-of-way professionals are encouraged to implement innovative practices and foster innovation in their organizations. The shared success stories and best practices gathered from Right-of-Way Domestic Scans and Excellence in Right-of-Way Awards aid in promoting better implementation of the Uniform Act.
Training and Information Initiatives
One of the FHWA's most important roles as lead agency is to provide leadership for training on the Uniform Act. Training may be provided directly by the FHWA, by other federal agencies, or by other qualified organizations such as the IRWA. The FHWA has worked cooperatively with IRWA to ensure that course content is consistent with the Uniform Act requirements. The FHWA and the IRWA, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), are committed to fulfilling the partnering agreements signed in 1999 and 2003 respectively. The goal of the partnering agreements signed by the three entities is to collaboratively identify and develop real estate training opportunities that foster knowledge and understanding of the Uniform Act by those performing real estate acquisition on federally funded or assisted programs and projects. The USACE and the FHWA continue to work together. The partnership objective is to promote and encourage quality training, eliminate duplication, assess education and training needs, and examine training outreach initiatives with colleges, universities, and other training institutes. Partnership activities with the USACE during 2004 include:
At the USACE First Annual Real Estate Community of Practice Conference, the FHWA provided a briefing on the proposed changes to the Uniform Act regulations.
The USACE and the FHWA, along with the IRWA, worked together to promote classes held at the Delaware Technical and Community College and the Community College of Baltimore County. The USACE's support was crucial to the course with eight USACE employees attending the right-of-way related classes.
The FHWA continued to distribute the Real Estate Guide for Local Public Agencies (LPA) Guide, which provides a compendium of the federal laws and regulations, explains how the laws and regulations work, and charts the real estate acquisition process as an integral part of the overall project development process. This LPA Guide was the most requested publication provided by the FHWA as lead agency. To date, the FHWA has distributed more than 10,100 copies of the LPA Guide to the FHWA division offices, conference attendees, State DOTs, Federal Transit Administration offices, Federal Aviation Administration offices, and to other stakeholders. The LPA Guide was also offered on the FHWA website and as an interactive CD.
In 2004, the FHWA began production of an LPA Workshop package to assure that LPA officials understand the basic statutory and regulatory requirements that apply when acquiring real estate for federal-aid projects. The LPA Workshop included: a self-paced tutorial CD, both a participant and an instructor guide in ready-to-print format, instructor notes, PowerPoint slides for each module with additional slides for customizing the presentation, and a CD containing all PowerPoint Slides and ready-to-print materials. The LPA Workshop materials were designed to facilitate, in a cost effective and standard manner, State DOT personnel in leading sessions to train LPA officials and others.
The FHWA continued to take the following initiatives to provide readily accessible information about the Uniform Act to other federal agencies and the public:
The FHWA Uniform Act website was continually updated. The FHWA made every effort to provide the most current program information at this site. It can be accessed at www.fhwa.dot.gov/real_estate/uniform_act/
The FHWA's web-based Uniform Act training course developed in 2002 continued to be popular. In a six-month period, over 90 people took the course, which provided valuable training on real estate acquisition for a federally funded project. The target audience is federal, state, local public agencies, and consultants who acquire real estate, serve as program or project managers, or serve as grant administrators for grant recipients.
The FHWA distributed over 250 copies of its Uniform Act videos and CDs since May 2002. The orientation video was designed for federal agencies to use in public meetings or to advise public officials of the provisions of the Uniform Act. It discusses and explains the acquisition, relocation and appraisal functions. It is available in English with closed-captions and in Spanish.
Approximately 550 of the FHWA relocation videos, Comparable Concepts for Replacement Housing and Business Relocation, have been distributed to states and federal agencies to assist in their training efforts.
The FHWA continued to provide training through the National Highway Institute (NHI), in the relocation assistance, acquisition, and appraisal functional areas under the Uniform Act. During 2004, the training was offered on a limited basis while the relocation and appraisal courses are under revision to reflect the changes in the revised regulations. Normally, the training is available to state and local public agency personnel, staff of other federal agencies, the FHWA personnel, and consultants. The training will be available again as soon as the course updates are complete.
The FHWA continued to provide technical guidance, policy interpretation, and presentations to other federal agencies regarding the Uniform Act law and regulations. During 2004, the FHWA answered approximately 1,056 requests for assistance from various federal agencies and their constituents. This represented a 25 percent increase over requests received in 2003. The increase was a result of other federal agencies more frequently requesting assistance from the FHWA in interpretation and guidance under the Uniform Act and 49 CFR Part 24. The high number of assistance requests reflected the continuing attrition of experienced real estate personnel from public service.
All too often the complaints received by the FHWA from constituents on federal-aid projects were related to the federal-aid programs managed by staff of other agencies who are not completely familiar with the Uniform Act and its requirements. Many local public agencies and some state agencies receiving federal funding are not knowledgeable about the law and, frequently, do not believe that it applies to them. The FHWA, in cooperation with the other federal agencies, will continue to develop initiatives to encourage federal managers to become fully informed about these programs, including the Uniform Act and its requirements.
The FHWA and many other federal agencies continue to experience the loss of employees knowledgeable in the Uniform Act. Retirements, reorganization, changing agency priorities, and other events have meant that the number of staff and the depth of knowledge about the provisions of the Uniform Act have diminished or have been lost in some areas. That expertise has not been adequately replaced.
During 2004, the FHWA and the other federal agencies worked together to expand their collective knowledge about training needs and availability. The FHWA continues to learn about the diversity of the other federal agencies' programs and about how to address their concerns. The Interagency Federal Taskforce working sessions and the semi-annual All Federal Agency Uniform Act implementation meetings held during 2004 were informative and beneficial in understanding the uniqueness of each agency.
The DOT appreciates the many hours of hard work and spirit of cooperation afforded by each taskforce member and the cooperation of each agency. This cohesive working relationship produced a greater understanding and appreciation of each agency's program as the FHWA strives to make the "Uniform Act" truly uniform.
The DOT and FHWA appreciate the opportunity to serve as the lead agency for the Uniform Act, and hopes this report helps others understand the lead agency activities for 2004.