Federal government unloads real estate

@CNNMoney May 31, 2012: 2:30 PM ET
The government is looking to unload some of its real estate portfolio.

The government is looking to unload some of its real estate portfolio.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The federal government, the nation's top property owner, said Thursday that it is on track to save $8 billion by the end of the fiscal year by consolidating its real estate holdings and selling off the excess.

The government had achieved savings of $5.6 billion as of the end of the first quarter, according to the Office of Management and Budget, which said agencies are on track to add several billion more in savings by the end of the fiscal year.

Why is the government so keen to sell its real estate?

The federal government owns 1.1 million real estate assets, a category that includes land, buildings and structures.

The roster runs the full range: Lighthouses. Empty buildings that are no longer used. Big plots of land that once housed government depots. And many structures are underused, outdated or abandoned.

President Obama has made the consolidation and sale of federal property a priority, and has directed agencies to achieve $8 billion in savings by the end of the fiscal year.

Danny Werfel, the controller of the Office of Management and Budget, said the government is making progress.

"Agencies have worked to reduce office space, encourage wider adoption of telework, provide alternate workspace configurations, reduce operating costs, and consolidate data centers," Werfel said in a blog post.

Werfel offered a few examples of recent property sales as evidence of the program's success.

The government was recently able to unload a 27,000-square-foot office building in Nome, Alaska for $1.68 million. And a 1,425 acre former radar site in Moscow, Maine was sold at auction for $750,000.

The Internal Revenue Service has announced plans to close 43 offices, part of a larger initiative that will reduce the agency's footprint by 1 million square feet. Total savings: $40 million.

Of course, selling federal real estate as a way to reduce the deficit is a little like scrounging in the couch for loose change to pay the mortgage. Eight billion dollars, while not insignificant, pales in comparison to the $1 trillion plus annual budget deficit.

And the government still faces substantial red tape when trying to sell property.

Law requires the General Services Administration, which acts as the government's property manager, to offer unwanted property to states, local governments and nonprofit organizations, at discounts of up to 100%, before auctioning the property.

In addition, surplus government buildings must be offered up as housing for the homeless before being sold.

In his blog post, Werfel called on Congress to pass the Civilian Property Realignment Act, which he said would "cut through the red tape and politics that slowed the sale of excess Federal property for too long."

The legislation would create an independent board of experts charged with evaluating federal real estate holdings.

The board would be modeled on the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which makes recommendations on Department of Defense real estate. To top of page

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