By Ed O'Keefe
House lawmakers approved a measure Tuesday that would establish a commission to select underused or excess federal property worth selling or giving away to cut costs.
The House voted 259 to 164 to approve the Civilian Property Realignment Act, which would leave the fate of thousands of federal buildings, warehouses, storage sheds and silos in the hands of a commission that would determine what to do with the extra property.
The vote came on the same day that the Obama administration announced the most high-profile conversion yet of an excess federal building: The historic Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington will be converted into a Donald Trump-owned luxury hotel with at least 250 rooms, conference facilities, a spa and restaurants.
“One thing that we should all agree on is that the sale, redevelopment and consolidation of vacant and unneeded federal property is a common-sense way to eliminate waste and save taxpayer dollars,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), said before the vote.
The federal government owns 1.2 million properties, costing taxpayers more than $20 billion to operate and maintain, according to an Obama administration analysis. The White House has identified roughly 12,000 excess properties and an additional 50,000 that are underused. Already, federal agencies are planning to divest an art deco-style heating plant and the Old Post Office Building in Washington and a large, but empty, storage warehouse in Brooklyn.
Denham’s bill is similar to a White House plan to cut $8 billion worth of building costs by the end of the 2012 fiscal year and to establish a panel to identify other sites worth selling or donating to nonprofits or state and local governments.
In a statement Monday, the White House said Denham’s bill isn’t sufficient because the bill’s provisions could tie up the fate of thousands of properties in a prolonged congressional debate. Though the White House also would establish a BRAC-like panel to review potential closures and consolidations, those proposals would go into effect unless Congress voted against the entire plan. Denham’s bill would require a joint resolution to approve the recommendations.
The White House said Denham’s bill also includes broader exemptions for potentially excess properties owned by the military or the National Park Service.
Denham’s bill moves next to the Senate, which is considering proposals introduced by Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) and other senators.