Numerous Issues Involved in Large-Scale Disposals and Sales of Federal Real Property

CED-82-18: Published: Dec 11, 1981. Publicly Released: Dec 23, 1981.

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GAO was asked to study all federal lands to determine which lands could and should be sold, the market value of all federal lands, and the methods of disposal or sale that would yield the most revenue and do justice to existing uses. GAO was asked to address the issues of: (1) the total amount of federal land in the United States broken down by agency and state; (2) the kinds of lands and buildings held by each agency and whether they are currently being used; (3) the approximate market value of the land owned by each agency both by category and by state; (4) the possible revision of existing statutes and regulations governing the sale of federal land to states, local governments, or private individuals; and (5) the uses to which funds obtained through the sale of excess land could be applied.

As of September 30, 1979, the federal government owned 24,520 installations. These installations consisted of: 32.7 percent of all land in the United States; 405,147 buildings; and $52.3 billion worth of structures and facilities. The government does not attempt to establish a market value for federal real property. Instead, the property is accounted for on the basis of acquisition cost. The total recorded cost of federal real property as of September 30, 1979, was $104.9 billion. However, about 92 percent of federal land is public domain land which is carried on the books at no cost. The Department of Defense controls 72.2 percent of the total square feet of federal buildings in the United States. The Departments of Agriculture and Interior together own 95.5 percent of the total federally owned land. As of September 30, 1978, the current value of federal buildings, structures, and facilities was $316 billion. A large-scale disposal program of federally owned real property would involve formulating new federal policy that could have a far-reaching impact on many federal, state, and local programs and would require extensive staff and time resources. A disposal program would have to comply with many legislative provisions unless the act authorizing the program waived the provisions or they were otherwise revised. A study to decide whether public domain land could be disposed of would have to compare the amount obtained from selling the land versus the income from the fees which could be generated from federal use of the land.

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