The federal government spends more than $1.7 billion a year to maintain 770,000 empty buildings while other agencies are leasing or buying new space, and Rep. Jeff Denham is fed up.
is something that hasn’t been handled in Republican or Democrat
administrations because it’s too big of a bureaucracy,” Denham
(R-Turlock) said in an interview in his office. “There’s no incentive
for the agencies to sell.”
He said if politicians are going to talk about cutting government waste, selling empty buildings is a good start.
has tried repeatedly to create a federal panel to streamline the sale
of federal property. On Tuesday, the House Transportation and
Infrastructure Committee unanimously approved Denham’s most recent
effort. A similar Senate
bill sponsored by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was approved by the Senate
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in December.
The seven-member commission created by Denham’s
bill would have six years to review most federal property, recommend
buildings to sell and suggest ways agencies could consolidate space. The
White House Office of Management and Budget would review the
recommendations and report to Congress on which properties to sell and why.
have very little communication between agencies,” Denham said. “We’ve
seen agencies that will put out to bid huge pieces of property for the
next big expansion, the next new thing that they need and only after it
gets approved, then another agency goes 'Hey, wait a minute, we’ve got
half of a building here.'"
commission also would recommend at least five “high value” properties
not listed as surplus property for sale with a combined value of at
least $500 million.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will review the bill before it can move to the House floor.
federal government has tried for decades to get a handle on
its hundreds of thousands of office buildings, storage warehouses,
courthouses, hospitals, parking garages and other structures. In
California, the federal government owned more than 271 million square
feet of property in fiscal 2014, according to the General Services
Administration. How much of that property is not being used is not
President Bush created the Federal Real Property Council
and a comprehensive property database in 2004. Beyond an annual report,
the General Services Administration-maintained database is not available
to the public, Congress or other federal agencies.
Under President Obama,
the Office of Management and Budget has instructed agencies not to
increase their total square footage of office and warehouse space beyond
what existed in 2012.
Despite those efforts, the Government
Accountability Office reported in June that the government continues to
hold more property than it needs, leases when it would be cheaper to own
and uses unreliable data to make property management decisions.
bill would require the administration's database to be public and
include details about each property's specific location, maintenance
costs and use, and why the property is needed.
He pointed to the
Los Angeles Federal Courthouse and the Veterans Affairs Facility in Los
Angeles as examples of underused buildings. “They need to have a
long-term plan of what those vacancies are going to be used for and
whether or not they can combine [with] other agencies,” Denham said.
Similar legislation from Denham passed the House in 2012, but died in committee in 2013.
earlier attempts were stymied by concerns that they would interfere
with an existing requirement that before surplus federal property can be
sold, regardless of type or condition, it must be offered to states,
municipalities and nonprofit groups that provide services for homeless
A 2016 Congressional Research Service report found that could add months or years to the process.
was certainly a stumbling block that we had dealt with two years ago in
the last Congress,” Denham said. “The way that GSA had defined this in
the past, [a] homeless advocacy group could actually put a hold on any
property that we were trying to sell. That created a disincentive for
agencies actually trying to sell.”
Since 1987, only 122 of 40,000
screened federal properties have been transferred to homeless advocacy
groups under this process, according to a June 2015 report from the U.S.
Government Accountability Office.
Denham said surplus federal properties should be available to house the homeless, but the process should be easier.
his bill, the Department of Housing and Urban Development would decide
which federal properties might be suitable and only those buildings
would be offered to nonprofits, municipalities or states. It also
shortens the screening and application process.
“When you’ve got a
billion-dollar property, when you’ve got a heating plant in Georgetown,
those are not properties that are going to be used for the homeless,”
Several lawmakers who previously opposed the measure
over concerns that it would affect homeless advocacy groups' access to
surplus property have signed on as co-sponsors, including Rep. Elijah
Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Oversight and Government
The highest-ranking Democrat on the Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio
(D-Ore.), said he and Denham spent “considerable time” negotiating
details of the bill and he is "quite happy" with the final result.
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The Obama administration hasn’t taken an official stance on the bill, and opposed it in the past, but Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), told committee members Wednesday that Denham’s bill lines up with the president’s efforts to reduce federal property.
Denham said the challenge at this point is getting the bill passed during a presidential election.
“We have, I think, set this bill up for
success, but I think, like anything else, this is a challenging year and
a challenging political climate. We still have to get it off the floor
and marry it to the Senate and ask the president to sign it,” he said.
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Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics.
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