Don’t Forget to Turn Off The Lights Before You Leave

I am reminded of Antiques Roadshow, reading – of all things – a June 2010 Presidential Memorandum on the disposition of unnecessary federal real estate. The dusty artifact of unused and underused buildings owned by the government has just been valued at $3 billion.

Photo by Oast House Archive. Some rights reserved.

Well, kind of. It’s more like the federal government is wasting billions of dollars on operation costs, maintenance, and energy expenses for properties that it no longer needs. In 2009, federal agencies reported more than 45,000 such “underutilized” buildings.

The good news is that consolidation and disposal of such properties could “produce no less than $3 billion in cost savings,” in both proceeds from property sales as well as reduced expenses, according to the President. In the memo, Obama urged agencies to “save energy and water, and further reduce greenhouse gas pollution” by accelerating efforts “to identify and eliminate excess properties.” He set a target date of the end of fiscal year 2012.

There’s just one problem. Well, several, according to GAO Testimony released yesterday.

First, the GAO is concerned that the competing interests of stakeholders could “build barriers to real property disposals.” Local governments, business interests, advocacy groups and even historic preservation organizations may all want to voice their opinions on the fate of a given federal building. The solution? Rather than focus on transparency and mediation, the GAO has recommended developing an action plan to “reduce the impact of stakeholder influence,” a proposal that has yet to be implemented.

Another significant barrier to “effective” disposition is the complex and lengthy disposal process, which includes requirements such as “determining whether the property can be used by other federal agencies, for homeless assistance, and for the public benefit.” While I can’t speak to the inefficiencies of this system, I also can’t say I wasn’t pleased to see Figure 2 in the GAO’s report, which indicates that “homeless providers” get second crack at the excess property (after other federal agencies).

Lastly, there is the problem of environmental cleanup. Federal agencies are required to assess and pay for any restoration needed before they can dispose of a property. The length and cost of such studies and remediation is often so significant that, in some cases, “the cost of the environment cleanup may exceed the costs of continuing to maintain the excess property in a shut-down status.” This is, by far, the most disheartening of the problems.

Unlike an original work of art, sitting on excess federal property isn’t doing any good in the long or short run. However, surmounting the above obstacles and hitting the 2012 target date remains, in the words of the GAO, a “high risk” challenge.

2 responses to this post.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Knowledge Mosaic, Green Mien. Green Mien said: Don’t Forget to Turn Off The Lights Before You Leave: #GAO #EnergyEfficiency #RealEstate […]


  2. […] a follow-up on last week’s “Don’t Forget to Turn Off the Lights Before You Leave,” our post about President Obama’s June 2010 directive to the federal government to dispose of […]


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