Watchdog: Uncle Sam Has Trouble Keeping Track of His Property

The Parker Dam is one of the facilities named in the report. The Parker Dam is one of the facilities named in the report. United States Bureau of Reclamation

From roads to water towers to particle accelerators, the 480,000 government-owned structures nationwide are not being inventoried as carefully as its buildings, an audit found.

As a result, agencies using differing criteria to report the structures they own may be missing opportunities to save money, the Government Accountability Office said in a Feb. 4 report.

For example, the report supplied photographs showing a radio tower at Virginia’s Dulles International Airport managed by the Federal Aviation Administration that could be counted as one structure, or six, in the federal inventory. “Structures” include the antenna system, a raised structure that holds the antenna system, a lower structure accomplishing the same thing, a cable system that carries data from the antenna to the building, the tower’s concrete foundation and the concrete beneath the tower.

The federal body responsible for coordinating inventories into a single profile is the interagency Federal Real Property Council. It typically spends more of its efforts on buildings, which generate more status inquiries from other agencies, Congress and the public, GAO found.

“Agencies take different approaches to defining and inventorying structures making the aggregation of data in the FRPP's database unreliable,” auditors wrote after visiting 24 sites for structures owned by five agencies. “These agencies counted structures differently, provided inaccurate structure location information, and categorized their structures inconsistently, all of which limits the usefulness of the data on structures in the FRPP.”

GAO recommended that the Office of Management and Budget work with the property council to develop guidance to make reporting on structures more consistent while considering scaling back data collection.

Both GSA and OMB agreed with the recommendations, and GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini created an action plan to implement them.  

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