Plan to sell federal real estate rises on GOP agenda

A House Republican plan to sell off excess federal buildings and emphasize market-based management of the government's real estate assets got a new lease on life with the wave of GOP victories in Tuesday's elections.

The ambitious plan -- it could save the government $250 billion, according to minority members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee -- was laid out in an Oct. 6 report titled, "Sitting on Our Assets: The Federal Government's Misuse of Taxpayer-Owned Assets."

"Congress must become a better steward of the people's money and resources. It's time we stop sitting on our assets," committee Ranking Minority Member John Mica, R-Fla., said in releasing the document. He noted the federal government, as the nation's largest asset holder, manages 896,000 buildings and structures with a total area of 3.29 billion square feet and more than 41 million acres of land.

The report is particularly critical of the General Services Administration, saying the government's landlord owns "large numbers of vacant or underutilized federal buildings" and yet "struggles to dispose of its surplus property in a timely fashion and for reasonable rates of return despite its enhanced property disposal authorities." The report criticizes GSA's real property management for its "apparent inability to maximize market opportunities to house federal employees at the lowest long-term cost to taxpayers."

Beyond GSA, the report cites potential savings by selling off or reconfiguring assets controlled by the Transportation Department, Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Amtrak and the Army Corps of Engineers.

For example, the committee Republicans said, the government would save $2 billion by selling 20 percent of "nonperforming" real estate assets. It would save $1 billion by "reducing or eliminating spending on unneeded courthouses and excessive courthouse space." And it would save as much as $180 billion by "encouraging additional investment in infrastructure from the private sector by providing a better definition of public-private partnerships for undertaking highway, transit, port, rail, airport and other infrastructure projects."

A Mica spokesman on Wednesday confirmed the report is now a high priority and "a source for the initiatives that Mica will put forth if he becomes chairman."

The Obama administration has agreed that the federal government has surplus property. President Obama in a governmentwide memorandum in June said agencies will save taxpayers $3 billion by accelerating disposal of unneeded federal property, ending unnecessary lease agreements and consolidating duplicate assets such as data centers. Agencies are at work identifying even more savings.

Peter R. Orszag, then director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a June blog post the federal government has 14,000 excess buildings and structures and 55,000 that are under- or unused.

Asked for comment on the GOP plan, Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Moira Mack told Government Executive in an e-mail: "As part of the president's Accountable Government Initiative, we are taking aggressive steps to save taxpayer dollars while making government work better, harder and more efficiently for the American people and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress on these important issues."

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