Federal Real Property:

National Strategy and Better Data Needed to Improve Management of Excess and Underutilized Property

GAO-12-645: Published: Jun 20, 2012. Publicly Released: Jun 20, 2012.

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What GAO Found

The Federal Real Property Council (FRPC) has not followed sound data collection practices in designing and maintaining the Federal Real Property Profile (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. For example, FRPC has not ensured that key data elements—including buildings' utilization, condition, annual operating costs, mission dependency, and value—are defined and reported consistently and accurately. GAO identified inconsistencies and inaccuracies at 23 of the 26 locations visited related to these data elements (see the fig. for an example). As a result, FRPC cannot ensure that FRPP data are sufficiently reliable to support sound management and decision making about excess and underutilized property.

The federal government has undertaken efforts to achieve cost savings associated with better management of excess and underutilized properties. However, some of these efforts have been discontinued and potential savings for others are unclear. For example, in response to requirements set forth in a June 2010 presidential memorandum for agencies to achieve $3 billion in savings by the end of fiscal year 2012, the General Services Administration (GSA) reported approximately $118 million in lease cost savings resulting from four new construction projects. However, GSA has yet to occupy any of these buildings and the agency’s cost savings analysis projected these savings would occur over a 30-year period—far beyond the time frame of the memorandum. The five federal agencies that GAO reviewed have taken some actions to dispose of and better manage excess and underutilized property, including using these properties to meet space needs by consolidating offices and reducing employee work space to use space more efficiently. However, they still face long-standing challenges to managing these properties, including the high cost of property disposal, legal requirements prior to disposal, stakeholder resistance, and remote property locations. A comprehensive, long-term national strategy would support better management of excess and underutilized property by, among other things, defining the scope of the problem; clearly addressing achievement goals; addressing costs, resources, and investments needed; and clearly outlining roles and coordination mechanisms across agencies.

Why GAO Did This Study

The federal government has made some progress addressing previously identified issues with managing federal real property. This includes establishing FRPC—chaired by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)—which created the FRPP database managed by GSA. GAO was asked to determine the extent to which (1) the FRPP database accurately describes the nature, use, and extent of excess and underutilized federal real property, and (2) progress is being made toward more effective management of these properties. GAO analyzed the data collection process and agency data, visited 26 sites containing excess and underutilized buildings from five civilian federal real property holding agencies with significant portfolios, and interviewed officials from these five agencies and OMB staff about how they collect FRPP data and manage excess and underutilized properties.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that, in consultation with FRPC, GSA develop a plan to improve the FRPP and that OMB develop a national strategy for managing federal excess and underutilized real property. GSA agreed with GAO’s recommendation and agreed with the report’s findings, in part. OMB agreed that real property challenges remain but raised concerns about how GAO characterized its findings on FRPP accuracy and other statements. GAO believes its findings are properly presented. The details of agencies’ comments and GAO’s response are addressed more fully within the report.

For more information, contact David Wise at (202) 512-5731 or at wised@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2012, GAO reported that the federal government has undertaken efforts to achieve cost savings associated with better management of excess and underutilized properties. However, the federal government still faces long-standing challenges to managing these properties, including the high cost of property disposal, legal requirements prior to disposal, stakeholder resistance, and remote property locations. A comprehensive, long-term national strategy would support better management of excess and underutilized property by, among other things, defining the scope of the problem; clearly addressing achievement goals; addressing costs, resources, and investments needed; and clearly outlining roles and coordination mechanisms across agencies. Therefore, GAO recommended that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in collaboration with Federal Real Property Council member agencies, develop and publish a national strategy for managing federal excess and underutilized real property. In the spring of 2015, OMB issued the NATIONAL STRATEGY FOR THE EFFICIENT USE OF REAL PROPERTY, 2015-2020, Reducing the Federal Portfolio through Improved Space Utilization, Consolidation, and Disposal (National Strategy). The National Strategy identifies the problem and related challenges, outlines goals and objectives, provides a policy framework (freeze, measure, reduce the footprint), and specifies implementation steps. With the issuance of the National Strategy, the federal government has taken a major step forward to increase the efficiency of federal real property management and address long-standing real property challenges. The National Strategy is intended to guide federal agencies in managing specific real property issues related to excess and underutilized office and warehouse space over a 5-year period within the limited budgetary environment. As a result, the National Strategy provides the federal government a framework for improving how the government manages its excess and underutilized real property and improve accountability for these efforts.

    Recommendation: The Director of OMB should require the OMB Deputy Director for Management, as chair of FRPC, in collaboration and consultation with FRPC member agencies, to develop and publish a national strategy for managing federal excess and underutilized real property that includes, but is not limited to, the following characteristics: (1) a statement of purpose, scope, and methodology; (2) problem definition and risk assessment; (3) goals, subordinate objectives, activities, and performance measures, including the milestones and time frames for achieving objectives; (4) resources, investments, and risk management; (5) organizational roles, responsibilities, and coordination; and (6) integration and implementation plans.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Previously, GAO reported that results-oriented organizations make sure that the data they collect are sufficiently complete, accurate, and consistent enough to document performance and support decision making. In 2014, GAO reported that the Federal Real Property Council (FRPC) has not followed sound data collection practices in designing and maintaining the Federal Real Property Profile (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. For example, FRPC has not ensured that key data elements--including buildings' utilization, condition, annual operating costs, mission dependency, and value--are defined and reported consistently and accurately. GAO identified inconsistencies and inaccuracies at 23 of the 26 locations visited related to these data elements. Consequently, FRPC cannot ensure that FRPP data are sufficiently reliable to support sound management and decision making about excess and underutilized property. GAO recommended that GSA develop and implement a plan to improve FRPP, consistent with sound data collection practices, so that the data collected are sufficiently complete, accurate, and consistent. As part of this recommendation, the plan should address: clearly defining data collection requirements, developing performance measures, collaborating with federal agencies that provide data, and developing reports on the data collected. In November 2015, GSA briefed GAO on a range of changes to FRPP that they were implementing to address GAO's recommendation. These included refinements to the FRPP data dictionary to clearly define key elements including status, real property use, and disposal method; establishment of validation tools and a baseline for measuring data quality; meeting with federal agencies to discuss efficiency opportunities; and, development of a federal real property portal to highlight policy development and share success stories among agencies. As a result of these actions, federal real property-holding agencies will likely have greater assurance that FRPP data are sufficiently reliable to support sound management and decision making and to achieve desired outcomes related to real property management.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of GSA, in collaboration and consultation with FRPC member agencies, should develop and implement a plan to improve the FRPP, consistent with sound data collection practices, so that the data collected are sufficiently complete, accurate, and consistent. This plan should include, but not be limited to the following areas: (1) ensuring that all data collection requirements are clearly defined and that data reported to the database are consistent from agency to agency; (2) designating performance measures that are linked to clear performance goals and that are consistent with the requirements in the 2004 executive order (or seeking changes to the requirements in this order as necessary); (3) collaborating effectively with the federal agencies that provide the data when determining data collection requirements and limiting the number of measures collected to those deemed essential, taking into account the cost and effort involved in collecting the data when determining data collection requirements; and (4) developing reports on the data that are collected.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

 

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