Federal Personal Property Donations Provide Limited Benefit to the Homeless

RCED-91-108: Published: Jul 15, 1991. Publicly Released: Aug 16, 1991.

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Judy A. England Joseph
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the availability of federal surplus personal property to homeless assistance providers, focusing on: (1) how extensively the donation program has assisted the homeless; (2) whether program features limit its effectiveness; and (3) whether program modifications could improve its effectiveness.

GAO found that: (1) the Federal Surplus Property Donation Program is not a significant source of aid to the homeless; (2) program features discouraging program use by homeless assistance providers include the types of items available for donation, the poor condition of potentially useful items, inconvenient federal and state distribution points, service and handling fees, the low priority assigned to homeless assistance providers in the distribution process, and impractical reporting requirements; (3) 41 of 45 selected homelessness assistance providers relied more heavily on personal property donations from private sources than from the federal donation program; and (4) the current method of valuing donations at their original acquisition cost rather than at current value overstates the worth of many items, but because all items are valued on this basis, this method permits reasonable comparisons of assistance going to different groups.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Legislators have not expressed an interest in or have any plans to pursue this issue.

    Matter: If Congress believes that homelessness assistance providers should be given a higher priority in the surplus property donation program, Congress should allow homelessness assistance providers to receive property directly from federal distribution centers concurrently with service educational activities, in addition to receiving it from state agencies for surplus property as they now do.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: GSA reports that the use requirement is not merely regulatory, but also is prescribed by statute.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of General Services should amend the regulations implementing the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949 to eliminate use restrictions on items with original acquisition costs below an appropriate amount. In determining this amount, the General Services Administration should weigh the government's need to prevent fraudulent use of donated items against the donees' need to minimize their administrative burden.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration


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