Lawmakers press for list of unused federal buildings for sell-off

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers are asking for a list of all properties under control of the General Services Administration (GSA) to look at possible ways to sell off excess property and cut unnecessary federal spending. 

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, along with ranking member Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and 14 other committee members, sent a letter March 2 to GSA Commissioner Robert Peck asking for list of unused federal property.

“I have made it clear that eliminating waste and getting our fiscal house in order is a priority of mine,” Denham said. “I am focused on selling excess, underused federal buildings and will remain committed to providing the necessary oversight.”

Denham asked for a complete list of all GSA-controlled properties and for all information including building address, square footage, estimated market value, how much the property costs the federal government to maintain, current building capacity and current building use.

Since a hearing three weeks ago, Denham said GSA hasn't fulfilled several requests for lists of the properties and warned that he would issue subpoenas, if necessary.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration announced Wednesday that it has identified 14,000 vacant government buildings to sell, saving upward of $15 billion over three years, well ahead of initial savings estimates of $3 billion. 

In June 2010, the White House set a $3 billion savings target to sell unused properties. 

To help facilitate the sell-off, The White House is forming an independent board of private and public sector leaders that will cut through the "red tape, financial barriers, political interests," said Jeff Zients, the federal chief performance officer and the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.

"That’s why the government owns thousands of properties it doesn’t need, and is wasting taxpayer dollars," he said. 

Despite a slow commercial real estate market, Zients said sales shouldn't be delayed, arguing "we need to get rid of this real estate, stop paying for unnecessary upkeep and bring the money back to taxpayers.”

Once the board makes it decisions on selling the property, Congress would then hold an up-or-down vote on whether to accept the board’s recommendations. Lawmakers also have to approve creation of the board.

A full list of available properties will be made public on the Internet within the next month.

The more expansive $15 billion plan was outlined in President Obama's fiscal 2012 budget released Feb. 14. 

"There are unneeded properties throughout the country, from downtown city centers to suburban shopping districts to rural locations," Zients said. "When you go property by property, you see the properties range from empty warehouses to underutilized office buildings."

The federal government owns and operates more than 1.2 million buildings costing about $20 billion a year to operate, he said.