Federal Real Property:
Government-wide Building-Disposal Data Generally Reliable, but Opportunities for Further Improvements Exist
GAO-17-321: Published: Mar 2, 2017. Publicly Released: Mar 2, 2017.
What GAO Found
GAO's analysis showed that government-wide data were generally reliable for reporting on real property disposals for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
- The General Services Administration's (GSA) Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP) serves as the building inventory database for most of the largest federal agencies. FRPP's data on real property disposals were generally complete, reasonable, and internally consistent, based on GAO's guidance for assessing data reliability. For example, the disposal date, disposal method, and buildings' square footage data generally met these criteria.
- The Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) reporting of FRPP disposal data for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 was also generally reliable. Based on analysis of FRPP data, GAO was able to replicate OMB's reported numbers on building disposals, despite minor inconsistencies. GAO identified three minor inconsistencies in its analysis and OMB's reporting, all of which led to some over-reporting of building disposals. For example, the data showed 134 buildings as disposed of in multiple years. Given that these inconsistencies resulted in small differences in the number of buildings reported, GAO determined that the inconsistencies did not affect the overall reliability of government-wide reporting of disposal data.
OMB, GSA, and selected federal agencies have taken steps to improve government-wide real-property data and additional opportunities exist to make further improvements to data and reporting on disposed buildings. For example, OMB issued a government-wide memo requiring agencies to implement data-validation and verification checks when submitting annual FRPP data. GSA issued guidance that should help agencies identify data anomalies. The three selected agencies have taken steps, such as updating their real-property databases and reporting guidance, to improve the reliability of their real property data. GSA has also taken steps to improve disposal data specifically. For example, GSA has addressed one of the inconsistencies GAO found, wherein agencies reported disposals with a disposal date from a previous reporting year. Regarding a second inconsistency that GAO identified wherein agencies can report the same building as disposed of multiple times, GSA officials responded that they intend to address this issue by adding a data validation procedure to prevent this reporting error in the future. However, GSA did not give details on how it would accomplish this step especially in light of several other concurrent initiatives under way. Without such a control in place, disposals can be overstated and agencies might make decisions based on data that could be more accurate. A third inconsistency, wherein OMB used FRPP data differently in reporting fiscal year 2014 disposals than in fiscal year 2015, led to OMB's including 207 non-federally owned buildings in its reporting of domestic federal building reductions. OMB staff stated that they did not have a procedure in place to verify with GSA that the summary data used in fiscal year 2015 only included federally owned buildings and were suitable for reporting on the progress of reducing the federal footprint. Thus, OMB did not precisely represent what it intended to measure. As the Reduce the Footprint policy calls for OMB to continue to report annually on these data, it will be important to ensure that Congress and other stakeholders receive the most accurate data available.
Why GAO Did This Study
Disposal of unneeded buildings—for example through demolition, sale, or transfer to other federal agencies—has the potential to save the government millions of dollars. To this end, OMB has developed policies to reduce space in federal buildings and identify buildings for disposal. Recent progress notwithstanding, GAO's body of work on real property has found limitations in the overall reliability of data in GSA's government-wide database. OMB has reported on the status of federal real property disposals for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
GAO was asked to examine the reliability of the data used to report disposals and any efforts to improve the data. This report assesses (1) the reliability and reporting of government-wide disposal data for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, and (2) steps OMB, GSA, and three selected agencies have taken to improve disposal data. GAO analyzed the most recent FRPP data, agency documents, and interviewed OMB, GSA, and agency officials. GAO selected the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, and the Interior based on the highest numbers of disposed buildings.
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends (1) that GSA implement a data validation procedure to prevent reporting a building as disposed of multiple times and (2) that OMB, in coordination with GSA, establish a procedure to verify that its reports include data as intended. GSA and OMB agreed with GAO's recommendations and identified steps to implement them.
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Recommendations for Executive Action
Comments: In 2017, GAO reported that government-wide data were generally reliable for reporting on real property disposals for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. However, GAO identified a minor inconsistency wherein agencies can report the same building disposed of multiple times. Specifically, GAO found 132 buildings that were reported as disposed of in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 that had already been reported as disposed of in a previous reporting cycle. For the 2015 reporting year, 121 buildings reported as disposed of were also reported in other fiscal years from 2011 through 2014. When GAO asked about these cases in which buildings were reported as disposed of multiple times, GSA officials stated that the Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP) does not have a data validation procedure that prevents agencies from reporting disposals in multiple reporting cycles. Ensuring that a data validation procedure is put in place is important because without this control, building disposals can be overstated. GAO recommended that GSA implement a data validation procedure to prevent reporting the same building disposal multiple times. In response to GAO's recommendation, GSA developed a business validation procedure and added the following language to its 2017 FRPP data dictionary to prevent over-reporting: FRPP business rule validation prohibits reporting a disposed asset multiple times. An asset that has been reported disposed cannot be reported disposed in subsequent years. Agencies cannot dispose of the same asset multiple times. For example, if an asset was reported disposed by an agency in fiscal year 2014, then the agency should not report the asset as disposed in the current fiscal year. Instead, it should delete the record from its data submission, so that the asset appears in FRPP's missing asset report. In the missing asset report, the agency should note that the asset had been reported disposed in a prior fiscal year. This business rule should result in fewer over-reported disposed buildings to FRPP thereby enabling agencies to make sound real property management decisions based on more reliable disposal data.
Recommendation: To improve the reliability of FRPP disposal data, the Administrator of GSA should implement a data validation procedure to prevent reporting the same building disposal multiple times.
Agency Affected: General Services Administration
Comments: As of September 2017, OMB has taken some initial steps to coordinate with GSA to establish a procedure to verify that OMB's reports included the intended data.
Recommendation: To improve the accuracy of reporting on progress in reducing the inventory of federal buildings, the Director of OMB, in coordination with the GSA Administrator, should establish a procedure to verify that the OMB's reports include the intended data, such as, reporting individual buildings only once and reporting only federally owned buildings.
Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget