Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., is the lead sponsor of one of the bills.

Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., is the lead sponsor of one of the bills. Susan Walsh/AP file photo

House Passes Bills to Speed Up Sales of Federal Buildings

Bipartisan measures would create a Public Buildings Reform Board and streamline leasing.

Impatient with the Obama administration’s seven-year effort to “shrink the federal footprint,” the House on Monday unanimously passed two bills aimed at accelerating the process of disposing of unneeded agency buildings, restructuring the General Services Administration and creating a new buildings authority.

Backers said together the bipartisan bills would save taxpayers billions of dollars.

The Public Buildings Reform and Savings Act (H.R. 4487) would reorganize GSA by creating a Streamlined Leasing Pilot Program that “reduces the administrative red tape on most GSA leases and encourages space consolidations, improves accountability in the acquisition and construction of new federal space, ensures federal construction projects remain within or under budget, sets clear timeframes on authorized projects, and clarifies congressional oversight of property exchanges,” a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee summary said. The bill would also strengthen the authority of the Federal Protective Service to improve building security.

“We have had hearings highlighting federal buildings sitting vacant, costing the taxpayer through maintenance costs and unrealized sale proceeds,” said lead sponsor Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee. “These buildings are often eyesores in local communities and provide no local tax benefits.  And agencies have been slow in getting rid of unneeded properties.”

The Federal Asset Sale and Transfer Act (H.R. 4465)  would establish a Public Buildings Reform Board, with members appointed by the president for six-year terms. The board would identify opportunities to reduce the real property inventory and make recommendations for the sale of up to $8 billion worth of underutilized and vacant federal properties, a committee summary said. The bill would also require GSA to create and publish a single, comprehensive database of all federal real properties, including whether those properties are excess, surplus, underutilized or vacant, to prevent a future stockpiling of unused and underutilized property.

“Given our trillion-dollar deficit and skyrocketing debt, we must examine every area of government and look for ways to cut spending,” said lead sponsor Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., who has been seeking such a body for five years.  “This bill is a bipartisan solution to a $3 billion problem. By selling and consolidating unneeded and underutilized federal property we can save taxpayer dollars and revitalize communities in the process.”

The Obama administration had also sought some kind of appointed property disposal board similar to the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission, but negotiations broke down over the role of the Office of Management and Budget.

“For years, poor management of federal buildings and agency office space has wasted the taxpayers’ money, and the Transportation Committee has made it a priority to significantly reform the way the government handles its real estate portfolio,” said Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the committee.

Ranking member Peter DeFazio of Oregon added, “The legislation reflects a collaborative effort to improve real estate management in the federal government.”