House Passes “Civilian BRAC” Bill

The House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday designed to speed up the sale of large amounts of excess federal properties. The Civilian Property Alignment Act (H.R. 1734), commonly referred to as the “Civilian BRAC” bill), which passed 259 to 164, would create a process similar to the Defense Department’s BRAC, with a nine-member commission of private and public sector specialists that would review the federal real estate inventory and make recommendations to Congress about selling or redeveloping high-value properties, consolidating space and disposing of unneeded assets. The bill would require the commission to select at least five properties worth $500 million or more for sale within its first 180 days.  According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), such a commission could generate $15 billion in revenue from property sales within the next ten years; additional savings would come from reduced federal spending on leases, energy and maintenance.

“One thing that we should all agree on is that the sale, redevelopment and consolidation of vacant and unneeded federal property is a common-sense way to eliminate waste and save taxpayer dollars,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., who first introduced the bill last May, in a statement this week. An earlier version passed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in October contained several controversial provisions that were deleted from the version passed by the full House, including one that would have transferred the Federal Trade Commission’s headquarters to the National Gallery of Art.

The bill—which would offer private developers unprecedented opportunities to buy and/or redevelop some prime properties in the Washington, D.C., area and elsewhere—now heads to the Senate, where Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. introduced a companion bill (S. 1503) last August. The Obama administration, which proposed a similar plan last year, issued a statement of administration policy on Monday that opposed the House bill because it requires Congress to adopt the commission’s recommendations by joint resolution and because it bypasses some environmental reporting mechanisms currently required by the National Environmental Policy Act; it also disagreed with the bill’s zeroing out of GSA’s construction budget and said that it exempts too many properties (including U.S. Postal Service buildings, agriculture-related buildings, military installations and structures related to flood control) from consideration by the commission.