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T. Christian Miller, ProPublica, Mar. 25, 2019
"A law is supposed to protect property owners from lowball offers by the government when it takes land through eminent domain. But a letter shows how simple it is for officials to eviscerate what is already a pretty toothless law.
... Homeland Security appeared to have ignored the one federal law designed to protect the rights of property owners from lowball offers by the government.
The obscure Uniform Act requires the government to conduct formal appraisals to establish the worth of any property valued at more than $10,000. Those appraisals are supposed to be done in concordance with the exacting guidelines spelled out in a 262-page federal manual. And the government is supposed to negotiate fairly and without coercion.
We knew Homeland Security had the ability to waive those protections, but we never found concrete proof that the agency had done so.
Almost two years after filing a Freedom of Information Act request, Homeland Security released a copy of the formal document that allows the government to ignore many safeguards built into the act.
The document underscores just how easy it is for the federal government to eviscerate what is already a pretty toothless law. As it turned out, all it took was a two-page letter signed by a midlevel bureaucrat in U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency of Homeland Security.
Here’s a look at the letter and at the protections that it stripped away. Nothing would stop the Trump administration from doing the exact same thing today. Congress has taken no action to reform the Uniform Act or the Declaration of Taking, despite the laws’ controversial past."