House passes second bill to speed sale of excess federal property

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

For the second time in six weeks, the House on Tuesday passed a bill to streamline the process of selling off unneeded federal property, this time approving a version designed to incentivize agencies by giving them a share of proceeds.

Unlike a bill the House passed on Feb. 7 to create a semiautonomous civilian property board, H.R. 665 would create a pilot program directing the General Services Administration to dispose of unneeded federal real estate “in an expedited and cost-effective manner with the goal of maximizing taxpayer savings and profit,” noted a press release from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which reported the bill. (The bill passed in February, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., came through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.)

The legislation the House approved Tuesday would create a “single, comprehensive and descriptive database” of all real property under the government’s control. In addition, GSA and the Office of Management and Budget would maintain a rolling list of the top 15 high-value, excess federal property to auction off at fair market value.

“The Federal Building and Property Disposal Act is needed because the federal government owns too many buildings and structures,” said chief sponsor Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. “The current process to dispose of these excess properties is not working . . . This bill is bipartisan, will direct revenue to the U.S.Treasury, and reduces operation and maintenance budgets.”

The bill incorporated some language from a similar bill introduced last year by Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and passed on a voice vote.

“The federal government is the largest property owner in the world, but billions of tax dollars are wasted each year maintaining properties we no longer need,” Quigley said. “This bipartisan bill works to the benefit of taxpayers by encouraging the disposal of unneeded property and, for the first time, allows the American people to see a comprehensive list of the real property they collectively own and their government administers.”

Oversight panel chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said, “allowing agencies to retain net sale proceeds is recognized by experts both in government and the private sector as a successful way to incentivize the sale of more property. Reform to the archaic and byzantine disposal process is long overdue.”

Ranking member Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., said the federal government would clearly gain from the legislation, which passed unanimously. "Not only will the fair market value generate income, but we will realize significant savings by eliminating maintenance and operating costs," he said.

This story has been updated with comment from Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md.

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