Senate committee makes quick work of real property, Hatch Act bills

Thursday - 6/28/2012, 6:27am EDT

By Esther Carey
Special to Federal News Radio

The Department of Housing and Urban Development would receive up to 2 percent of all governmental property sales for assistance grants to the homeless.

This is one provision in the substitute amendment to the Federal Real Property Asset Management Reform Act. The legislation aims to speed up sales of underused or unused federal properties. The bill passed by unanimous voice vote Wednesday during a markup held by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the sponsor of the bill, said the method currently in use to sell federal property does not make sense.

The proposed changes would save taxpayers $5 billion over 10 years, said committee ranking member Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). It is reasonable to dispose of these vacant buildings, especially when one looks at the financial cost, which equaled about $1.6 billion in 2011, she added.

The committee passed the real property bill and six others during the markup.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the committee chairman, said it was challenging to get enough members to show up for a vote for such non-controversial legislation. "These measures don't attract much attention, but they do make a big difference for the federal government and how it functions," Lieberman said.

Hatch Act updated

In approving the Hatch Act Modernization Act, the committee pushed forward a much-needed update to the 1993 legislation dealing with the political activities of federal employees. The main provision of the new bill mentioned dealt with letting state and local employees who receive all of their salary from the federal government and are under the Hatch Act run for office.

The American Federation of Government Employees praised the passage of the bill in a press release, citing its creation of a range of penalties for violations of the Hatch Act. Currently, an employee found in violation is presumed to be terminated unless unanimous decision by the Merit Systems Protection Board mitigates that penalty.

"This legislation marks a good step in the right direction toward addressing outdated and unclear Hatch Act provisions that have unduly restrained the political activities of federal employees and some state and local government workers," said Beth Moten, AFGE legislative and political director, in a press release. "We look forward to working with lawmakers on more comprehensive improvements to the law."

Collins said this measure was important because she did not want there to be inequities between federal and state/local employees. She also said lawmakers should be careful in how they modify the original Hatch Act since it is "an important protection of the integrity of decision making."

The committee also approved the GAO Mandates Revision Act, which would repeal or modify certain mandates of the Government Accountability Office. Lieberman said this bill is aimed at making the important work of GAO employees simpler.

Lawmakers also passed three other bills:

Esther Carey is an intern at Federal News Radio.

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