GSA pounded for not moving excess property faster

Wednesday - 6/20/2012, 5:56pm EDT

By Esther Carey
Special to Federal News Radio

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee took a field trip to the soon-to-be-auctioned Georgetown Heating Plant in an effort to bring attention to the underused government buildings.

Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) led the June 19 hearing. They strongly criticized the General Services Administration for poor management of the excess assets owned by federal agencies.

Flavio Peres, deputy assistant commissioner of real property utilization and disposal at GSA, presented testimony. Neither Denham nor Mica showed any reluctance in demanding answers for GSA's part in not selling agency-owned properties that were no longer needed.

The committee has held a series of hearings about the necessity of improving management of federally owned property to save taxpayers money. According to the Federal Real Property Profile cited by Peres in his written statement, there are 14,000 unneeded properties owned by the government. The profile is managed by GSA, which acts as the federal government's landlord.

GSA controls about 12 percent of the total square footage of government-owned buildings, Peres said in his testimony. He emphasized that GSA is actively working to "right size" the portfolio. Over the past decade, GSA disposed of 280 of its own assets, valued at $260.5 million.

Committee members used the briefing's location as a prime example of the current problems selling unused buildings. The plant, located on the Georgetown waterfront, sat idle for 11 years before it was declared surplus property. During that time, it was used as a backup heating plant and for parking government vehicles, while costing taxpayers $3.5 million to maintain it.

Peres said the facility is "is an example of GSA's successful management of our assets and our ongoing efforts, in line with administration goals, to better utilize federal real property," citing a careful screening process as the reason for the delay.

The plant is scheduled to go up for auction in September. Peres said there had already been high interest in the property from the private sector. A press release on GSA's website also highlighted other properties which have been recently auctioned off.

For the committee members, GSA's past record was not good enough. Denham, sometimes raising his voice, told Peres "you're not doing a good job," and said the process of selling unneeded buildings was "moving way too slow."

"If this President is not willing to hold agencies accountable, than this committee will," he added.

Mica conveyed a similar attitude, rapidly firing questions at Peres about the details of the plant and about the broader picture.

Questioning Peres about how the committee could be of assistance, Mica asked if GSA had sufficient authority to deal with the properties. When Peres responded yes, Mica added "but you decided not to use it."

"Sitting on our hands and wondering how much more debt we can rack up is not a solution," Denham concluded, saying he was willing to hold hearings everyday in deserted buildings all across the nation if needed.

A bill sponsored by Denham passed the House in February. It would establish a commission to provide recommendations on the disposing of federal properties. The bill is currently in committee in the Senate.

Esther Carey is an intern at Federal News Radio.

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