VA Real Property:

Clear Procedures and Improved Data Collection Could Facilitate Property Disposals

GAO-19-148: Published: Jan 9, 2019. Publicly Released: Jan 9, 2019.

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Andrew Von Ah
(202) 512-2834
vonaha@gao.gov

 

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The Department of Veterans Affairs spent about $4 million last year to maintain hundreds of empty buildings. Federal management of real property (including VA's) has been on our High Risk List since 2003.

We found VA has taken steps to improve how it gets rid of excess property. For example, it sought to streamline the process for reviewing historic buildings before demolishing, selling, or otherwise disposing of them.

However, VA needs to better document its disposal procedures and track projects to help staff navigate complex federal and agency disposal rules. We made 3 recommendations to help address the issue.

An Empty and Deteriorating VA Building in California

This is a photo of a VA property with damage to the exterior.

This is a photo of a VA property with damage to the exterior.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Andrew Von Ah
(202) 512-2834
vonaha@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

Conducting required environmental and historic reviews in a timely manner is among the challenges the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) faces in its real property disposal process. These reviews include assessing the potential effects of property disposals on the environment and historic preservation. VA is taking steps to address these ongoing challenges. For example, VA has established a working group consisting of experts in historic preservation, environmental reviews, and real property to assist facilities' managers in expediting disposals. However, other ongoing challenges remain, including the marketability of VA properties and VA's lack of clear procedures for property disposals. While VA has guidance on disposals at the broad portfolio level, GAO determined that this guidance does not contain step-by-step procedures at the project level to assist facilities' managers to plan, implement, and execute disposals for the different disposal options. (See figure.) For example, a number of managers told GAO that they were not familiar with actions to take when transferring properties to a third party or turning over excess property to the General Services Administration for disposal. VA officials commented that facilities' managers do not frequently dispose of properties, so a procedural document outlining the steps and who is responsible for taking those steps may help staff navigate more complex disposal processes and avoid missteps and delays.

Description of Selected Disposal Options for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

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VA has enhanced its data collection on vacant properties, but the agency does not collect information needed to track and monitor disposal projects at the headquarters level. For example, VA requires facilities' managers to verify and certify the validity of vacant property data in the database used to manage real property—the Capital Asset Inventory. On disposal projects, however, VA lacks certain information, such as the status of environmental or historical reviews, to monitor progress. According to VA, the Capital Asset Inventory currently does not have enough capacity to collect key information and supporting documentation. VA officials said they plan to increase the capacity, but VA has not yet included some key information in the Capital Asset Inventory that could enable VA to monitor the progress of disposals. Without information on the status of disposal projects, VA cannot readily track and monitor its progress and identify areas where facilities' managers may need additional assistance.

Why GAO Did This Study

VA is one of the largest federal property-holding agencies, and its inventory of vacant buildings has generally increased over the last 6 years. Disposing of its excess properties has been a long-standing challenge.

GAO was asked to review how VA manages its real property disposals. This report addresses: (1) the challenges VA faces in disposing of its vacant properties and how it is addressing those challenges and (2) the extent to which VA is tracking and monitoring the disposal of its vacant properties.

GAO reviewed VA's policies and planning documents regarding property disposals. GAO also selected 31 properties that were either disposed of or planned for disposal in fiscal year 2017, among other selection criteria. GAO interviewed VA officials and stakeholders involved in the disposal of the 31 selected properties and familiar with VA's disposal process, including steps VA is taking to address challenges.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making three recommendations. These include developing disposal procedures for facilities' managers to help plan, implement, and execute disposal projects and collecting key information on the status of disposal projects, as VA implements its plans to increase the capacity of VA's Capital Asset Inventory. VA concurred with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with this recommendation and has taken steps to implement it. VA is developing procedures for each of VA's disposal options to help facilities' managers plan, implement, and execute disposal projects. VA informed us that they are drafting procedural documents that include a decision tree, milestones, and estimated completion timeframes to help facility managers plan and execute various disposal actions. VA plans to vet the draft documents internally by April 30, 2019 and then obtain senior leaders' approval for implementation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary should develop clear procedures for each of VA's disposal options to help facilities' managers plan, implement, and execute projects to dispose of vacant and unneeded properties. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with this recommendation and has taken steps to implement it. VA informed us that they developed requirements that are needed to enhance and collect key data in the Capital Asset Inventory. VA told us the enhancement of the Capital Asset Inventory database will enable them to capture the start and completion dates of disposal projects, including evidence of statutory compliance milestones. Collecting the data should help VA manage the status and time frames of disposal projects. VA plans to test and validate the enhancements after mid-April 2019 with the goal of implementing them by July 1, 2019, at which time training modules will also be developed and available for individual users.

    Recommendation: As VA implements its plans to enhance the CAI to collect key data on disposal projects, the Secretary should collect data on disposal status information and time frames (e.g., environmental and historical reviews' starting dates) to ensure VA has the information it needs to track the length of the disposal process and identify any areas where management may assist local facilities in implementing property disposals. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with this recommendation and has taken steps to implement it. VA informed us that they developed requirements to upgrade the capacity of the Capital Asset Inventory database to allow for collection of disposal-specific documentations, such as environmental and historic review compliance documents. VA anticipates increasing the necessary disk space by July 1, 2019 and intends to continuously monitor the capacity of Capital Asset Inventory once implementing these improvements.

    Recommendation: As VA pursues its plans to enhance the CAI, the Secretary should increase the capacity of the CAI to allow local facilities to upload disposal-specific documentation, such as environmental- and historical-review documents, to ensure all documentation related to a property's disposal is available to appropriate parties, including VA officials. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

 

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