By Vicki Needham
A House panel will hold a hearing Wednesday on several legislative proposals that would set up a framework to identify and decrease the federal government's real estate holdings.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will examine proposals from House lawmakers, most of whom have been working with the Obama administration for the past several months to not only create a way to reduce excess federal property but overhaul the process.
One bill sponsor, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, is aiming to create a civilian version of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) that led to the closure more than 350 installations between 1989 and 2005.
Denham's measure focuses on the long-term restructuring of how the federal government manages its real estate so that it can consolidate the real estate, determine a way to house more federal employees in less overall space and reduce the reliance on expensive leased space.
Several administration officials will testify, including Daniel Werfel, controller, Office of Federal Financial Management at the White House budget office; David Foley, deputy commissioner, Public Buildings Service, General Services Administration (GSA); Theresa Gullo, deputy assistant director, Budget Analysis Division, Congressional Budget Office; Joseph Moravec, former commissioner, Public Buildings Service, GSA; and Maria Foscarinis, executive director, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.
In early July, Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), former director of the Office of Management and Budget, sent letters to eight federal agencies requesting information on real property disposal initiatives.
"Looking ahead, it's critical that agencies come up with innovative property management tools to expeditiously dispose of assets they no longer need and take better care of those that they do need," the senators said in the letters.
Carper's panel held a hearing in June, asking the agencies to provide details on their property management overhaul efforts, including properties previously identified as excess or underutilized, properties previously sold as well as any plan for reducing the costs of owned and leased property.
Denham's bill would require a panel to designate properties for sale — then 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.
The chosen board will hold hearings and reach out broader expertise in commercial real estate, city officials and others with knowledge of the properties to determine the best way to shed them.
White House officials have called the BRAC method "a proven approach to the process of dispensing with unused federal properties," although it's the first time the process has been applied to civilian properties.
The federal government owns and operates more than 1.2 million buildings, costing about $20 billion a year to operate.