GSA doesn’t know how many buildings it should sell, audit finds

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. Charles Dharapak/AP
The government lacks reliable data on the number of federal properties that can be deemed superfluous and hence sold, the Government Accountability Office reported Wednesday. Inconsistently defined measures of property conditions, use and operating costs could call into question the Obama administration’s two-year-old effort to achieve savings by selling excess assets.

In a report requested by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Federal Financial Management subcommittee, GAO identified inaccuracies in the data profiles of 23 of 26 locations surveyed, including mischaracterizations of the properties’ value and centrality to the missions of the five agencies that own them.

The report comes just as House Republicans have stepped up their campaign to pressure the General Services Administration to accelerate its efforts to unload unneeded properties.

GSA, the auditors wrote, in response to requirements set forth in a June 2010 presidential memorandum for agencies to achieve $3 billion in savings by the end of fiscal 2012, “reported approximately $118 million in lease cost savings resulting from four new construction projects. However, GSA has yet to occupy any of these buildings and the agency’s cost savings analysis projected these savings would occur over a 30-year period -- far beyond the time frame of the memorandum.”

The report concludes that the Federal Real Property Council, a multiagency group led by the Office of Management and Budget, “has not followed sound data collection practices in designing and maintaining the Federal Real Property Profile database.” It recommends that OMB’s deputy director for management collaborate with FRPP agencies to develop and publish a national strategy for managing federal excess and underutilized real property that includes timelines. It also recommends GSA work with the member agencies to develop and implement a plan to improve the FRPP consistent with sound data collection practices.

Dan Tangherlini, acting GSA chief, largely agreed with the recommendations and agreed to implement them.

Carper, who has a bill (S. 2178) aimed at improving data on federal property assets, said in a statement, “As the adage goes, 'you can't manage what you can't measure,' and that is certainly true when it comes to improving how agencies' property is managed. Agency managers are essentially working with one hand tied behind their backs due to the lack of clear, reliable data about the status of the property they own and manage.” He added, “Fortunately, both Congress and the Obama administration are united in their commitment to address this issue.”

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