The prospect of getting rid of excess and underutilized government real estate has been described as the low-hanging fruit in the world of federal cost saving measures.
And this fruit isn't the cheap variety.
In fiscal 2009, two dozen federal agencies reported that they possessed more than 14,000 excess and 45,000 underutilized buildings that cost more than $1.7 billion annually to operate. Meanwhile, the Office of Management and Budget has recently estimated that the government could achieve $15 billion in cost savings in just three years through better property management and by shutting down thousands of federal holdings that agencies have deemed unnecessary.
With those kinds of potential savings, most everyone agrees the federal government needs to come up with a plan to trim its portfolio of more than 1 million properties. The issue has even earned a rare bit of bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill.
Late last month a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee unanimously approved a bill that would create an independent review panel to study the issue (E&ENews PM, May 25). The bill, which would create a Civilian Property Realignment Board to make recommendations on what properties to trim, is the result of a compromise between leading House Republicans and the White House.
Now it is the Senate's turn to take up the issue.
On Thursday, the Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee that oversees federal financial management and services will hold a hearing entitled "Federal Asset Management: Eliminating Waste by Disposing of Unneeded Federal Real Property."
Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), who has said better federal property management is a "no brainer" for the government, intends to look into whether the Civilian Property Realignment Board is the best way to handle the process.
The board is based on the military's Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC), which was created in the 1980s to close unneeded facilities. The bill that was agreed to by the House panel sets up an all-or-nothing approval process similar to the one employed by BRAC: If the president accepts all of the board's recommendations, they automatically go into effect unless Congress passes a motion of disapproval within 45 days.
Along with representatives from the Office of Management and Budget, the Government Accountability Office and other federal agencies, Carper has asked former Sen. Alan Dixon (D-Ill.), who chaired the 1995 BRAC process, to testify at Thursday's hearing.
When the White House offered up its version of the civilian BRAC process last month, Carper issued a release that was generally supportive of the effort. He said he would be crafting his own legislation on the issue.
"Ultimately we all want to determine the most effective strategy for realigning federal property and disposing of unneeded assets so we can better utilize scarce taxpayer dollars," Carper said last week. "I welcome the Obama administration's leadership in this area, and I look forward to exploring the intricacies of federal property management at this hearing."
Schedule: The hearing is Thursday, June 9, at 2 p.m. in 342 Dirksen.
Witness: Office of Management and Budget Controller Danny Werfel; Department of Veteran Affairs Director James Sullivan; U.S. General Services Administration Commissioner Robert Peck; Government Accountability Office Director David Wise; Government Accountability Office Director Brian Lepore; Former Sen. Alan Dixon; and Tim Ford, CEO for the Association of Defense Communities.