Interagency board identifies underused fed buildings

Friday - 3/4/2011, 6:15pm EST

By John Buckner
Federal News Radio

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is discussing solutions on how to reduce the number of excess and under-utilized federal properties. The committee is responding to the recent Government Accountability Office report that identified many duplicative programs across the government.

The GAO report added fuel to the ongoing discussion that agencies continue to spend billions of dollars on unneeded or underused buildings. The administration wants to create two panels to look into how to dispose of excess properties.

Danny Werfel, controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management, has established the real property advisory board.

"It [the real property advisory board] consists of OMB, several CFOs and real property executives," said Kathleen Turco, associate administrator in the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy at the Independent Telecommunications Pioneer Association luncheon Thursday.

Turco said the board is identifying the issues and problems in disposing of excess properties or the analysis around the underutilized properties.

In addition to this interagency board, the White House announced a proposal for its Civilian Property Realignment Board Wednesday aimed at the same issue.

"These properties cost over $20 billion a year to operate and maintain. The government doesn't need all these properties. In fact, 14,000 of these properties have already been designated by agencies as excess," said Jeff Zients, deputy director for management in the Office of Management and Budget Wednesday at a White House press conference.

Both boards are working together to save the taxpayers an estimated more than $15 billion over the next three years.

The White House stated the government owns 1.2 million properties. 14,000 of them are considered excess and 55,000 of them are underutilized.

During Thursday's committee hearing, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said one solution to reducing the number of federal facilities is to change how the government makes a buy or lease decision. She pointed to the new Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, D.C., that the government signed a 15-year lease on. She said it will cost the government millions more than if they had just bought the building outright.

Holmes Norton said the government is spending billions of dollars by not owning or leasing of properties the same way the private sector.

"We've recommended that OMB come up with a proposal to be able to deal with this issue, that's not been done yet," said Comptroller General Gene Dodaro. "It's a combination of action by OMB working with Congressional Budget Office and the budget committees to make a change."

Holmes Norton also asked witnesses what the role of the committee should be now that "there are so many actors" taking on the issue.

"This committee needs to drive an outcome," said Tom Davis, former Virginia Congressman and chairman of the Committee. "What we need to do here at the sub-committee level is continue to hold hearings and drive it and keep their feet to the fire. You need to put time limits on this so the clock runs out."

Holmes Norton has signed a letter asking the General Services Administration for access to their data records on excess properties to aid in the process.

Congressman Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) also questioned the witnesses about excess and unused properties and what they thought "was the best method to get the agencies to part with this property and sold to the private sector?"

"I think Congress should require regular reports on a quarterly basis from OMB about what the plans are to be to dispose of property," Dodaro said.

Dodaro also said the administration has goals to dispose of property by 2012 and it is Congress' responsibility to hold the government accountable to achieve their goals.

John Buckner is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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