House calls on administration to sell off excess properties

The House on Tuesday afternoon unanimously approved legislation directing the administration to set up a five-year pilot program for disposing of some of the excess property it owns, which costs the government more than $1 billion in unnecessary maintenance costs.

The Excess Federal Building and Property Disposal Act, H.R. 665, was approved in a 403-0 vote, easily meeting the two-thirds majority needed for passage under a suspension of the rules.

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In brief debate, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said the bill would help reduce the federal governments inventory of hundreds of thousands of buildings.

Most are somewhat amazed to understand that our federal goverment has roughly 900,000 buildings and structures under its ownership, he said.

He added that the Government Accountability Office has said there are 45,000 underused properties that cost $1.7 billion in maintenance costs, while the Office of Management and Budget has said more recently that there are 76,000 underused properties, and 14,000 excess properties.

This bill is bipartisan, it will direct revenue to the United States Treasury, it reduces operating and maintenance budgets, its presented in a bipartisan way … and I would encourage all of my colleagues to support this bill, he said.

Rep. Mike Quigley (Ill.) spoke on behalf of Democrats, and agreed that the bill is a smart way to help reduce spending at a time of fiscal crisis.

There could not be a better time to move a measure like this one through the Congress, he said. We are facing an unsustainable budget deficit, and must get our fiscal house in order.

Under the bill, the Administrator of General Services would be required to conduct a pilot program for five years to identify and sell off 15 high-value properties. As properties are disposed of, others would be identified to take their place.

Funds generated would be used to help reduce the budget deficit, although 2 percent of these funds would be used as grant money to help purchase properties for the homeless.

House passage sends the bill to the Senate, which has not indicated whether it would consider the measure. By the time of the vote, the White House had not released a statement of policy on the bill.

The Obama administration last year proposed a way to create a process for getting rid of unused or unnecessary federal buildings. The White House estimated its proposal would have saved $15 billion over the first three years of the program, and proposed legislation to Congress called the Civilian Property Realignment act.

But the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the administration's proposal would not result in significant savings, and critics of the plan have said it would have created more bureaucracy than necessary to carry out the property sales.

— This story was updated at 7:08 p.m. to note that the White House proposed its own property sales program last year, and again on March 21 to add other details.