OMB moves ahead with unloading excess real estate

The administration’s interactive map shows some 12,000 properties either for sale or recently sold. The administration’s interactive map shows some 12,000 properties either for sale or recently sold. White House image
This story has been updated from the original version.

The Obama administration has stepped up its effort to unload unneeded federal real estate, releasing on Wednesday an updated interactive map of some 12,000 properties either for sale or recently sold, as well as a new dashboard on the website that tracks agency progress toward President Obama's goal of saving $3.5 billion by the end of 2012.

Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients in a blog post said, "agencies have already identified real estate savings opportunities that exceed the president's goal."

The sales have generated revenue of $1.48 billion to date, the website says. Departments making the most progress, in rank order, are the Energy, Agriculture, Defense, State and Interior. Those with the loftiest goals in unloading property for 2012 are the Pentagon, the General Services Administration, and the Energy, Justice and State departments.

"Agencies are actively engaged in finding ways to save costs by reducing their footprint further through disposals or consolidations, saving energy and operating costs, and sharing space with other agencies," the site says.

One Washington-area property about to go on sale is the General Services Administration's West Heating Plant, a two-acre property in Georgetown that has been idle for more than a decade and has racked up $3.5 million in maintenance costs. GSA had been keeping it as a backup facility.

"For too long," said Zients, "the sale of excess federal real estate has been slowed by a process fraught with delays and hurdles. That's why in his budget last year, the president put forward a proposal called the Civilian Property Realignment Act -- legislation that would cut through red tape and politics to accelerate the disposal of unnecessary government properties well beyond 2012."

Legislation to create a federal property sales board similar to that proposed by the Office of Management and Budget cleared the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week. The Civilian Property Realignment Act (H.R. 1734) was introduced in February by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif. "There has been inaction on these vacant and underused buildings for too long," Denham said Wednesday. "Identifying excess property is step one. My bill . . . also takes politics out of the process and cuts through the bureaucratic red tape to ensure the sale or consolidation of these properties, resulting in real savings to reduce our $14.3 trillion deficit."

On Thursday Denham urged Congress' bipartisan super committee preparing deficit reduction plans to include his bill on selling federal property.

The Senate, however, has been slower to move on the White House and House Republican proposals to create a federal property board similar to the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

In July, the Congressional Budget Office said the approach actually would cost the government $60 million before achieving savings. A CBO official testified that many of the properties the administration has deemed unneeded "are not valuable." Some are owned by the Defense Department and wouldn't be covered by the legislation and will simply be demolished.

"The same longstanding barriers to selling off unneeded property that give some parties cause for skepticism are precisely the barriers the president is committed to tearing down," said Moira Mack, an OMB spokeswoman. "We are already making strong progress . . . If Congress passes the president's proposal to cut through the red tape and politics that have long delayed the sale of excess property, we are confident we can deliver even more savings for the American people."

Other observers want the government to tap private real estate expertise in dealing with sales during a slow economy. "Unloading excess inventory is a good thing, but for it to be effective it has to be part of a larger strategic plan," Leona Charles, president of SPC Business Consulting, told Government Executive. "They have to be clear about its goals and really find a concrete strategy for future acquisitions. Will they complete a thorough cost-benefit analysis, or are they just going to continue to have reactionary plans?"

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