Since 2012 the federal government has taken steps to trim its inventory of underutilized properties but the current administration still faces a variety of challenges before it can make a significant dent in its portfolio of excess properties, a senior official from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) told lawmakers on Friday.
The five primary challenges agencies need to overcome, according to Dave Wise, GAO’s director of physical infrastructure, include:
- a lack of reliable data with which to measure the extent of the problem;
- a complex disposal process;
- costly environmental requirements;
- competing stakeholder interests; and
- limited accessibility of some federal properties.
Wise testified during a hearing on legislative solutions for handling vacant federal properties sponsored by the House Oversight and Government Reform’s Transportation and Public Assets Subcommittee. In his testimony, he highlighted several of GAO’s highest-priority recommendations related to the government’s management of excess and underutilized property.
The congressional watchdog agency has called for the General Services Administration — along with the Office of Management and Budget and federal agencies — to improve the quality and transparency of the Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP), the data used to manage the government’s real estate. Specific steps include determining how individual agencies collect and report data; analyzing differences in the collecting and reporting practices; and clarifying the limitations of using FRPP data.
GAO currently is assessing the reliability of the federal government’s fiscal 2014 property disposal data.
The agency also has recommended the General Services Administration craft a strategy for promoting effective and efficient warehouse management across the federal government. Since GAO made the recommendation in November 2014, the General Services Administration has begun developing a guide for strategic warehouse planning.
Wise’s testimony also noted that two real property reform bills that address the government’s longstanding problems have passed the House but have not been enacted to date. The 2016 Federal Assets Sale and Transfer Act would establish a Public Buildings Reform Board to identify opportunities for the government to reduce its inventory of real estate.
The 2016 Public Buildings Report and Savings Act would promote consolidations and property disposal by requiring the General Services Administration to justify to Congress any new or replacement building space, including reasons that it cannot be consolidated or collocated into other owned or lease space. That measure also called for the government to dispose of certain properties in Washington, D.C.
To read the testimony of other witnesses and view a webcast of the hearing, visit the committee’s website.