Better Data, National Strategy Needed to Manage Excess and Underused Federal Property

A report released last Wednesday (June 20, 2012) by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined that the federal government lacks reliable data about some of its real estate assets, including information about the conditions of those properties, how they are being used, and how the current federal property inventory compares to what the government actually needs to support agency missions and programs.

The report raises serious questions about the reliability of the Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP) database (which GSA manages) and stresses the need for better data and a comprehensive, long-term national strategy to better manage and dispose of excess and underutilized federal property. It states that while the federal government has made some progress toward improving the way it manages federal real estate—in part by establishing the Federal Real Property Council (FRPC), which created the database—the FRPC “has not followed sound data collection practices in designing and maintaining the FRPP database, raising concern that the database is not a useful tool for describing the nature, use, and extent of excess and underutilized federal real property.”

After analyzing the data collection process; visiting 180 buildings listed as vacant or underused at 26 sites in Washington, D.C., Dallas, Los Angeles, and Oak Ridge, Tenn., that are operated by five civilian federal agencies with significant property portfolios (GSA and the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, the Interior, and Veterans Affairs); and interviewing officials from those agencies and OMB staff about how they collect data and manage excess and underused properties, GAO identified inconsistencies and inaccuracies at 23 sites. Some buildings listed as in “excellent” condition had damaged ceilings, collapsed roofs, and/or radiological contamination; others listed as occupied were either vacant or nearly vacant. Data for one Department of Agriculture building indicated that it was in near perfect condition and fully utilized; GAO investigators, however, found it to be dilapidated, vacant and riddled with health and safety violations, including rat and beehive infestations. The report thus determines that “FRPC cannot ensure that FRPP data are sufficiently reliable to support sound management and decision making about excess and underutilized property.”

The report recommends that GSA and OMB develop a plan to improve the FRPP as well as a national strategy to manage data and deal with excess and underused property by “defining the scope of the problem; clearly addressing achievement goals; addressing costs, resources, and investments needed; and clearly outlining roles and coordination mechanisms among agencies.”

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Service, and International Security—who had requested the report—said in a statement that “agency managers are essentially working with one hand tied behind their backs due to the lack of clear, reliable data about the status of the property they own and manage” and that “we need to get a better handle on the size and scope of the problem if we hope to develop the most efficient and effective solutions.”

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