The cuts came with great controversy and media coverage. However, what wasn’t mentioned was all of the simple and less controversial ways the Federal Government could save nearly $200 million per year (or more). That method would be getting rid of the 14,000 excess federal buildings and structures that are not in use by the government.
These vacant properties stretch across the country and are not in use, but are being maintained on the taxpayers’ dime. The Federal government describes these properties in this way:
“These properties range from sheds to underutilized office buildings and empty warehouses.” (1)
However, this quick description does not accurately describe the properties. The government’s description paints a picture of an abandoned, decaying warehouse or a rusted metal building. Though this may be the case for some of the properties, many of the properties and buildings that are classified as Excess Properties are well-made and well-maintained structures such as formal research facilities and office buildings.
Properties Sitting Empty
Even though the government is claiming that they are doing their best to sell the properties, many of them sit empty for years on end while taxpayer money is used to maintain them.
In some cases, it may be difficult to find a buyer for some properties; however, many of the properties are highly desired by buyers, but the government still drags its feet when it comes to selling them.
For example, it took the government more than a decade to sell a vacant steam generation power plant located on the Potomac waterfront. During this time, the building was being actively maintained through the use of taxpayers’ money.
When the government finally sold the property, it went for $19.5 million. Meaning not only is taxpayer money not being wasted on an empty building, but the sale gained the government nearly $20 million towards the deficit. Such an outcome of an Excess Property sale could be fairly common.
According to the government, roughly $190 million of taxpayer dollars are used to maintain these properties annually.
Though that would be an impressive savings, the revenue generated from these properties is even more impressive. Many analysts believe that billions of dollars could be generated from the sale of these properties.
Two years ago, the Business Journal reported that:
“Daniel Werfel, controller at the OMB, told a House subcommittee April 6 that the three-year program would yield between $9 billion and $12 billion in liquidations alone — not including operational cost savings.” (3)
How Did This Happen?
How did the government get left with so many empty properties worth so much money that cost American citizens so much annually?
The main problem is a two-fold issue that plagues our government across the board; ineffective policies and politicians.
To sell a property labeled as an Excess Property is a bureaucratic red tape nightmare. Long story short, the agency who owns the property must offer it to other federal agencies first. Then, offer it to state agencies. Then, offer it to local agencies.
If no government agency wants the property, it must be assessed for the possibility of being used as a homeless shelter. If the property cannot be used as a shelter, then it can be put on the market to sell.
Of course, all this must be documented and re-documented slowing the process to a snail’s pace. Furthermore, the politicians are doing nothing to expedite the process. Each time a piece of legislation is written to help (or in come case force) the government to sell the properties more quickly, it is voted down.
There are more than 14,000 excess properties owned by the federal government that could generate billions of dollars in revenue and save the taxpayers millions of dollars. However, it is all being held up by red tape and ineffective politicians.
It is situations such as this when we should write our congressmen (and women) and demand these properties be sold in a timelier manner.