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Back to the Future? A Chronicle of Public Land Appeals and IBLA Caseload Management

H. Barry Holt, Natural Resources and Environmental Administrative Law and Procedure II

The Interior Board of Land Appeals (“IBLA”) has been the principal entity within the United States Department of the Interior (the “Department”) adjudicating public land disputes for 34 years. In that time, the IBLA has survived many political administrations, seen its membership change, and struggled with its productivity. Despite those challenges, the IBLA today still speaks finally for the Secretary of the Interior on public land appeals. This longevity has not been without its controversies. As the prominent last stop on the path to judicial review, the IBLA is under constant scrutiny and incessant criticism.

Although many problems have plagued its long existence, IBLA's greatest challenge has been to provide timely and competent adjudication of administrative appeals. Competence is a never-ending issue for every adjudicatory body, and IBLA is no exception. But, that issue often depends upon who is chosen to adjudicate, and the reform of administrative processes usually has limited effect on competence. Timeliness, however, may be affected by administrative processes, and is a goal that all well-intentioned public service organizations strive to achieve. Again, IBLA is no exception. IBLA has long struggled with disposing of appeals timely and efficiently. Efforts at reforming its processes have met only limited success. The struggle continues to this day.