House passes bill to streamline process for disposing of excess federal property

Tuesday - 3/20/2012, 7:50pm EDT

The House unanimously voted Tuesday to create a new process for disposing of the federal government's 14,000 excess properties, beginning with a pilot program to sell off some of the most profitable.

The Federal Building and Property Disposal Act, originally sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), would create a five-year pilot program under which the General Services Administration, in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget, would conduct expedited sales of 15 high-value properties.

Under the law, agencies would be able to keep a portion of the proceeds from the sale of real property. The bill would also create a comprehensive database compiling a list of all of the federal government's real property.

Chaffetz said the government simply owns too many properties and the current process for disposing of them is not working.

"With $15 trillion in debt, the federal government can no longer afford to foot the bill for excess buildings," Chaffetz said in a release. "This bill is bipartisan, will direct revenue to the U.S. Treasury, and reduces operation and maintenance budgets. I encourage my colleagues in the US Senate to pass this important piece of legislation."

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who also sponsored the bill, introduced some complementary measures that were incorporated into the bill after it passed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in November, according to a committee release.

Competing proposals seek to tackle issue

In a February 2011 report, the Government Accountability Office documented more than 45,000 underused properties across the federal government with operating costs totaling nearly $1.7 billion each year.

Since that report was issued, the Obama administration and a number of lawmakers have issued competing proposals aiming to speed the process by which the government divests of unnecessary property.

The administration proposed an independent commission, modeled on the Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure plan, to sort through and sell excess properties. But the Congressional Budget Office said gaining billions of dollars from that proposal would be "unlikely."

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who chairs a House subcommittee that oversees public buildings, introduced a proposal in May that also advocated for a BRAC-style commission to shutter federal facilities.

The House passed Denham's bill's last month.

Denham's bill and the one sponsored by Chaffetz and Quigley "are not mutually exclusive," a spokesman for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee told Federal News Radio. "H.R. 665 does not create any new bureaucracy to review property, it facilitates the sale of unused and excess property by streamlining the existing disposal process and directs GSA to work with OMB and agencies to identify and sell unneeded properties under a pilot program."

The bill now heads to the Senate.

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