House Seeks to Unload Unneeded Government Property

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

WASHINGTON (AP) - The House on Tuesday backed legislation to
sell off or consolidate some of the thousands of underused or
unneeded federal buildings, potentially saving taxpayers billions
of dollars.
The House bill takes its cue from past efforts to close military
bases, setting up a commission that would make recommendations on
streamlining federal property that Congress could either accept or
reject, but could not alter.
The Obama administration last May came up with a similar plan
modeled after the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission,
or BRAC.
But, as is generally the case in today's partisan atmosphere,
there was discord even on a measure that enjoyed bipartisan
support.
The White House, in a statement, said it "appreciates" that
the bill would pursue reform of the government's real estate
portfolio, but voiced concerns it did not go far enough. The
administration, and House Democrats, also said the bill discounts
environmental factors in deciding which properties should be
disposed of.
The vote was 259-164 with 21 Democrats voting for the bill. It
now goes to the Senate, where a companion bill has been introduced.
The aim of the bill, said its sponsor, Rep. Jeff Denham,
R-Calif., "is to shrink the federal real property footprint and
save billions of taxpayer dollars by selling what we don't need and
better utilizing what we keep."
The federal government, he said "has a horrible track record of
selling properties that aren't being used. In fact, we sold 82
properties in the last 25 years."
He cited estimates that in the 2009 budget year the federal
government wasted more than $1.7 billion in operating costs for
underused buildings and that his bill could save taxpayers $15
billion over the next decade.
Denham cites as examples of government waste a courthouse in Los
Angeles that was proposed more than a decade ago but never built
despite the spending of tens of millions on design and
administration costs; and the Old Post Office building, a landmark
in downtown Washington D.C., that is now vacant and costs $6.5
million a year to maintain.
Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., said federal executive branch
agencies control some 429,000 buildings, and that an Office of
Management and Budget report estimated that in 2007 the government
held $18 billion in unneeded property. He also pointed to a
Congressional Research Service study that found that in 2009 the
government spent $134 million to maintain some 10,000 unneeded
buildings.
Denham's bill would form a nine-member Civilian Property
Realignment Commission to consolidate federal government
properties. As in the BRAC process, Congress can approve or
disapprove the commission recommendations en bloc only, decreasing
the possibility of political fighting over specific properties.
Within six months of enactment, the commission would be charged
with coming up with plans to sell at least five high-value federal
properties worth at least $500 million.
The board would not have jurisdiction over military
installations, properties deemed essential to national security and
national parks.


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