Senate Subcommittee Reviews Proposals for Tackling Excess Federal Property

With less zeal, perhaps, than its counterpart in the House, the Senate subcommittee overseeing federal real estate this week began to assess the problem of how to dispose of thousands of unneeded properties, most likely though a panel similar to the BRAC commission.

The hearing held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management demonstrated that the Senate is not as far along as the House in advancing a legislative solution to the problem, but it also served as a strong indication that both chambers of Congress are interested in passing a measure shortly.

“Clearly, the momentum is building to address a widely recognized problem,” said Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) according to the prepared version of his opening statement. The other subcommittee members present readily agreed that legislation needs to be enacted quickly.

Last month, the House Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management passed the Civilian Property Realignment Act. Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) introduced H.R. 1734, which would establish a framework through which an independent commission would review federal properties and make recommendations for consolidations, co-locations, redevelopment, selling or other actions to minimize costs and produce savings for the taxpayer.

ADC Delivers Testimony

Thursday’s hearing was intended to help the Senate subcommittee evaluate the Obama administration’s proposal, which calls for a civilian property realignment board to be formed to shrink the portfolio of federal real estate and save billions of dollars.

Carper conceded that his subcommittee needs to spend more time examining the administration’s proposal. “The president’s proposal may be the right approach. It may not be. It does, however, hold some promise,” he said.

One issue witnesses highlighted was the consequences of relying on a civilian property realignment board, the form recommended by the administration, versus a commission, the structure called for in the House proposal. In response to a question from Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), ADC CEO Tim Ford emphasized that a commission would not be under the auspices of a federal agency, giving it the independence to make its own decisions.

“The independent nature of decisions through a commission in the BRAC process has been critical to maintaining the support and involvement of communities,” Ford said earlier when delivering his testimony. The subcommittee invited ADC to testify because of the association’s experience with BRAC and to gain insight into communities’ perspective on the issue.

David Baxa, CEO of VISTA Technology Services, noted that the commission structure worked well for BRAC because the panel was bipartisan and, as a result, carried more weight.

Brown later asked the witnesses for their suggestions for ensuring communities have a voice in the disposal process. Ford replied that the commission needs to establish a system to engage communities from the very beginning.

The panel should be required to establish regional or state liaisons to manage interaction with affected areas, Ford said earlier. In areas where significant property disposal actions are occurring, the panel should have the option of creating a joint federal-local entity, chaired by the community or state and made up of federal and local members in the affected areas.

Toward the end of the hearing, Daniel Werfel, controller of the Office of Management and Budget, told lawmakers the agency would need 18 months after legislation is enacted to get a board up and running.

Visit the subcommittee’s website, to read the testimony from each of the witnesses.

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