Billions Spent on Unused Government Buildings

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Billions Spent on Unused Government Buildings
200px-US-GeneralServicesAdministration-Logo.svg.png
AgencyGovernment Services Administration
Amount of Spending$1.7 billion annually
Websitehttp://www.gsa.gov
Additional IssuesThe money is spent on approximately 77,000 unused federal buildings

Visualizing Questionable Spending

in terms of:

equates to:


In 2010, the Congressional Research Service estimated that taxpayers spent nearly $1.7 billion annually on some 77,000 unused federal buildings.[1] As Washington has searched for ways to save money, the sale of these unused buildings is often cited as a potential source of revenue. Fox News claims that the estimated savings from the sale of these buildings is anywhere from $3 billion to $8 billion.[2]

President Barack Obama issued a memorandum titled "Disposing of Unneeded Federal Real Estate" in 2010. In this directive, the president outlined his desire "to eliminate wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars, save energy and water, and further reduce greenhouse gas pollution" and to see "no less than $3 billion in cost savings by the end of fiscal year 2012, yielded from increased proceeds from the sale of assets and reduced operating, maintenance, and energy expenses from disposals or other space consolidation efforts, including leases that are ended."[3]

Contents

Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report

In 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report that noted numerous "inaccuracies" between descriptions of buildings' conditions found in the Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP) database and the actual conditions of those buildings. The Federal Real Property Profile, which is maintained by the General Services Administration (GSA), is a database cataloging federal properties and their conditions. In a spot check of "180 buildings listed as vacant or underused at 26 sites in Washington, Dallas, Los Angeles and Oak Ridge, Tenn," the GAO discovered "inconsistent and inaccurate" information about the conditions of 23 of the 26 locations.[4] The GAO reported that the discrepancies “rais[ed] concern that the database is not a useful tool for describing the nature, use and extent of excess and under-utilized federal real property.”[5] In its summary of the report, Capitol Markets explained the nature of the discrepancies:

"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."[6]

Extra Space found in Construction of Courthouses

After the spending cuts known as the sequester kicked in on March 1, 2013, the GAO issued another report regarding more than 3.5 million square feet of extra space included in the construction of 33 courthouses across the U.S.--space large enough to successfully house nine other average-sized courthouses. The 33 courthouses were constructed between 2000 and 2010 and cost taxpayers about $835 million. This year, the taxpayers continued to pay for maintenance and operation costs of the unused square footage at a total cost of $51 million per year.

In the report[7], the GAO determined that each of 33 courthouses were built at least 1.7 million square feet over the mandated size. One example the GAO points to is the Wilkie D. Ferguson Courthouse in Miami, Fla. This courthouse was originally intended to employ 33 judges. However, due to lack of planning, the courthouse was only able to hire 27 judges, resulting in two unused courtrooms and more than 57,000 square feet in extra space. Another example was the Ferguson Courthouse, which the GAO suspected should not have even been built in the first place. In total, the 238,000 extra square feet cost taxpayers an annual $3.5 million in maintenance costs and led to an extra $48.5 million in construction costs.[8]

Congressional Response

To highlight the unused buildings, the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Government Operations held a hearing in April 2013 in a Southeast Washington, D.C. vacant warehouse. According to the Washington Guardian, the warehouse had, until 2009, been used for storage by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.[9] During the hearing, Representative Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) "joked" that the staging of the inquiry was a "$17,000 a year hearing" ($17,000 being the annual cost of maintaing the facility).[10] The GSA estimated that selling the facility would result in $19 million in revenue.

Several senators have also joined the fight to expose the issue of federal vacant buildings. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has been especially vocal against the use of taxpayers funds to support vacant buildings. In early 2013, he told Fox News, "We spend about 8 billion dollars a year maintaining properties that we have no use for. Now that 8 billion dollars is just thrown down the drain because we can't get past the homeless lobby to get a common-sense way to take care of their problems and also us to unload properties."[11]

In the House budget for Fiscal Year 2014, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) included direction for the sale of underused or vacant federal buildings. However, the Senate quickly rejected the plan.[12]

Uses for the Space

During the April 2013 hearing, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton suggested that the unused warehouse, just one of the many examples of vacant federal property, could be handed over to Washington, D.C. Locals officials would like to create a vibrant community center in the abandoned warehouse. Among the ideas floated for the building are a culinary school and a multi-purpose educational center called the "Half Street Market initiative." This initiative could help with job training and potentially employ many residents as cooks, waiters and other restaurant staff.[13]

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told reporters, "There are two ways to get things done here in Washington, D.C.: slow and never."[14]

Additional Reading

References

  1. The Foundry. Unused Federal Buildings: No Room for Sequestration Cuts?. March 1, 2013.
  2. Fox News. What to Cut. Excess federal property costing taxpayers billions. March 26, 2013.
  3. The White House. Presidential Memorandum--Disposing of Unneeded Federal Real Estate. June 10, 2012.
  4. The Washington Post. GAO report cites inaccurate information about federal property. June 20, 2012.
  5. The Washington Post. GAO report cites inaccurate information about federal property. June 20, 2012.
  6. Capitol Markets. Better Data, National Strategy Needed to Manage Excess and Underused Federal Property. June 27, 2012.
  7. Government Accountability Office. Nationwide Space and Cost Overages Also Apply to Miami Project. March 8, 2013.
  8. The Fiscal Times. Wasted Federal Space Costs Taxpayers $51M a Year. March 12, 2013.
  9. Washington Guardian. Lawmakers question why government is keeping 100,000 unused buildings at heavy taxpayer expense. May 6, 2013.
  10. Washington Guardian. Lawmakers question why government is keeping 100,000 unused buildings at heavy taxpayer expense. May 6, 2013.
  11. Fox News. What to Cut. Excess federal property costing taxpayers billions. March 26, 2013.
  12. Fox News. What to Cut. Excess federal property costing taxpayers billions. March 26, 2013.
  13. Washington Guardian. Lawmakers question why government is keeping 100,000 unused buildings at heavy taxpayer expense. May 6, 2013.
  14. Washington Guardian. Lawmakers question why government is keeping 100,000 unused buildings at heavy taxpayer expense. May 6, 2013.