Civilian BRAC bill sponsor has eye on federal property

Friday - 10/14/2011, 11:04am EDT

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calf.)

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) has proposed a bill to sell off unused pieces of federal property.

Even as it has garnered bipartisan support, he said the best way to move forward is to remove the politics from the process of shuttering vacant properties.

Denham joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris to discuss the proposal, a day after it handily cleared the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee.

"The whole idea of this is to takes politics out of the process just like the BRAC Commission did," Denham said, referring to the Base Realignment and Closure plan, which was tasked with shuttering military bases across the country.

Denham said unused or under-used federal properties are similarly ripe for closing or consolidating. And doing so would save the government a lot money, he said — as much as $15 billion, he said.

The bill would:

  • Establish an independent civilian commission, similar to the BRAC to make recommendations to Congress

  • Require the sale or transfer of underutilized GSA properties

Denham said his bill could provide a boost to previous administration attempts to sell of under-used federal properties, efforts which have largely stalled of late.

"The federal government has a horrible, horrible track record of trying to sell properties," Denham said. Over the last 25 years, the government has only sold 25 properties while the list of under-utilized properties extends to 14,000, he added.

While the idea of selling property has gained bipartisan support — it was mentioned by President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address and was a part of his latest jobs proposal — it still remains difficult in practice.

Some of that is political, Denham said, with lawmakers often fighting to keep the particular properties in their districts.

But there are also issues of logistics.

"Unfortunately, the federal government does not have an inclusive list of all of the things that we own," Denham said. "In fact, agencies don't even have a list of all of the things that they've either purchased or the things that they have in their inventories."

One of the bill's goals is to create a complete inventory of the government's properties, he added. It would first target big-ticket, billion-dollar properties for potential closure, he said — those "that we have no need for anymore."

But the plan would also eventually target the smaller properties — such as the many agricultural buildings that dot counties across the U.S.

Once properties have been identified, the government would work with local realtors to find sell them, he added.

Even with a multitude of issues crowding the Congressional calendar, Denham said he is confident the bill will get a fair hearing.

"When you're in a crisis with a $14 trillion deficit, you need to find every way to save money," Denham said. And his plan is something that could pay dividends for years down the road, he suggested.

"Really reducing the footprint of how much space that we need is something that will, for decades to come, save us money," he added.

Denham also discussed why he has urged the General Services Administration to reduce the per-person allocation of space in new leased buildings.