Federal Real Property:

Improved Data and a National Strategy Needed to Better Manage Excess and Underutilized Property

GAO-12-958T: Published: Aug 6, 2012. Publicly Released: Aug 6, 2012.

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David J. Wise
(202) 512-5731
wised@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

We found 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 concerns that the database is not a useful tool for describing the nature, use, and extent of excess and underutilized federal real property. The 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. For example, we documented buildings reported to the FRPP as underutilized even though they were fully occupied and we also documented others that were vacant but reported as utilized. We also saw severely dilapidated buildings that were reported as being in excellent condition. In fact, at 23 of the 26 locations visited, we identified inconsistencies and inaccuracies related to these data elements. As a result, FRPC cannot ensure that FRPP data are sufficiently reliable to support sound management and decision making about excess and underutilized property. In addition to problems with data consistency, we found problems with collaboration and reporting issues, among others.

In addition to the various problems we found and documented with real property data, we also found that the federal government continues to face other challenges when managing excess and underutilized properties. The federal government has sought ways to generate cost savings associated with improving management of excess and underutilized properties. However, some of these efforts have been discontinued, and the 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, 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 presidential memorandum. Even though the cost savings achieved from efforts to improve property management are unclear, the five federal agencies that we 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, the agencies still face long-standing challenges to managing these properties, including the high cost of property disposal, legal requirements prior to disposal such as those related to preserving historical properties and the environment, stakeholder resistance, and remote property locations that are difficult to sell or dispose. 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; defining goals to be achieved; addressing costs, resources, and investments needed; and outlining the roles and coordination mechanisms across agencies.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony discusses the federal government’s efforts to collect data on its excess and underutilized real property assets and the need to better and more effectively manage these assets. In 2004, the President issued an executive order establishing the Federal Real Property Council (FRPC). The executive order required the FRPC to work with the General Services Administration (GSA) to establish and maintain a single, comprehensive database describing the nature, use, and extent of all real property under the custody and control of executive branch agencies, except when otherwise required for reasons of national security. The FRPC created the Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP) to meet this requirement and began data collection in 2005. Following the implementation of the executive order and nation-wide data collection efforts, we have reported that agencies continue to face challenges with managing excess and underutilized properties.

This statement draws on our June 2012 report that addressed the extent to which (1) the FRPP database describes the nature, use, and extent of excess and underutilized federal real property and (2) progress is being made toward more effectively managing these properties. This statement highlights the key findings and recommendations of our report. Our review focused on five civilian federal real property-holding agencies—GSA and the departments of Energy (DOE), the Interior (Interior), Veterans Affairs (VA), and Agriculture (USDA).

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

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