Issa asks CBO for estimate on proposal to shed federal properties

Issa also asked CBO to determine whether the legislation would reduce direct spending if enacted in an authorization bill or whether it would have an effect on the budget under pay-as-you-go rules if enacted as an appropriations bill.

On Wednesday, the White House announced President Obama's intention to sending legislation to Congress this week to accelerate the clearance of excess federal properties off the government's books.

The bill establishes a Civilian Property Realignment Commission (CPRC) that will include leaders from the public and private sector, similar to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) that closed more than 350 installations between 1989 and 2005, that would determine the fate of more than 12,000 federal properties. 

Once properties are designated for sale, Congress would then take an up-or-down vote on whether to accept the board’s recommendations. Congress also has to approve creation of the board.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) introduced a bill Thursday that is similar to the administration's proposal and also would save an estimated $15 billion over three years. 

Denham, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure's public buildings subcommittee has been working with the White House's budget office for several months on a plan to decrease the inventory of mostly unused federal buildings. During the past several months, Denham and his panel have pressed the General Services Administration (GSA) for a complete list of excess buildings. 

According to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) testimony delivered before Congress last month, the federal government has more than 14,000 buildings and structures designated as excess, and approximately 55,000 properties classified as underutilized. Taxpayers fork out nearly $1.7 billion annually to operate underutilized federal buildings, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Issa said.

In June 2010, Obama instructed federal agencies to generate at least $3 billion in savings through the consolidation and disposal of real property assets by the end of fiscal 2012. Last month, OMB testified that agencies have identified $1.7 billion in savings toward that goal and on Wednesday, senior administration officials said they were expecting to reach that amount while accelerating the process. 

The federal government owns and operates more than 1.2 million buildings at a cost of about $20 billion a year.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg; we're moving well beyond this list," said Jeff Zients, the federal chief performance officer and the deputy director for management at the OMB during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. 

The White House released a map on Wednesday with the locations of 14,000 excess federal properties in urban and rural areas that range from empty warehouses to underutilized office buildings. The Obama administration is seeking public input on buildings already listed and others that should be added.