Federal Property: Improved Monitoring, Oversight, and Data Would Help Understand Effects of Providing Property to Non-Federal Recipients

GAO-20-101 Published: Dec 20, 2019. Publicly Released: Dec 20, 2019.
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Fast Facts

Federal agencies said they had about $1.7 trillion in property (e.g., vehicles, lab equipment, and computers) in FY18. GSA’s process for disposing of unwanted property offers it to federal agencies first, but some agencies are allowed to give the property directly to non-federal recipients—such as universities.

The Departments of Agriculture, Energy, and Labor didn’t always know how non-federal recipients used the property, and GSA had unreliable data on the amounts of property disposed of this way.

Our recommendations are to improve data on non-federal recipients and to help agencies ensure that federal property is being used as intended.

A Telescopic Boom Lift Given to a Non-Federal Recipient

Construction equipment parked next to a building

Construction equipment parked next to a building

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Highlights

What GAO Found

GAO found the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Energy (DOE), and Department of Labor (DOL) established a process for providing property to non-federal recipients but had limited insight into how these recipients used this property. Officials told GAO that some of the property was disposed of prematurely or not used at all. Such outcomes are inconsistent with agency policy. Whether these instances are widespread or uncommon is unknown due to a lack of consistent monitoring and oversight. For example, DOE officials said they were not monitoring property provided by one of their programs, because they thought the authorization had expired. Without consistent monitoring or oversight, agencies cannot be assured that property is being used as required or achieving intended objectives.

Telescopic Boom Lift Used by a United States Department of Agriculture Non-Federal Recipient

Telescopic Boom Lift Used by a United States Department of Agriculture Non-Federal Recipient

Selected agencies identified benefits of providing unneeded and excess property to non-federal recipients, but the larger effect of these efforts is unclear due to a lack of reported reliable data. Agency officials said providing property to these recipients saves costs and enhances their mission. However, other sources, including a General Services Administration (GSA) study, reported that using these authorities has reduced the amount of property that would otherwise be available to federal agencies or other recipients. While data on property provided to non-federal recipients are key to understanding the effects of the program, GAO found the government-wide data on property provided to non-federal recipients were unreliable. For example, GAO found that agencies reported incorrect authorities for transactions and underreported excess property provided to such recipients. GSA's current reporting tool and guidance are unclear on how agencies should report these items, and GSA does not have definite plans on what changes it will make to address these government-wide data issues. Until these changes are made, it will be hard to understand the scope of property provided to non-federal recipients and assess the effects on the federal government's disposal process, such as whether federal agencies and other recipients may be missing opportunities to obtain property.

Why GAO Did This Study

The federal government owns and manages over a trillion of dollars of property that is not real property, such as vehicles, computers, and office furniture. Federal agencies generally get rid of excess property through GSA's disposal process, which then allows entities such as other federal agencies, to obtain that property if they want. Some agencies have independent authorities that allow them to provide property to non-federal recipients, such as universities, before or during the GSA disposal process.

GAO was asked to review how federal agencies provide property to non-federal recipients. This report examines (1) how selected agencies manage unneeded and excess property provided to non-federal recipients and (2) what is known about benefits, effects, and data on property provided to these recipients. GAO analyzed GSA non-federal recipients' reports from fiscal years 2013 to 2017, the most current available at the start of our review, and selected three agencies—USDA, DOE, and DOL—to obtain variety on the methods used to provide property to non-federal recipients. GAO reviewed relevant processes and interviewed officials from GSA, selected agencies, and non-federal recipients.

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Recommendations

GAO is making seven recommendations, including one to DOL and two apiece to USDA, DOE, and GSA concerning improving oversight, monitoring, and data quality for property provided to non-federal recipients. All four agencies agreed with the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Office of Property and Fleet Management to consistently monitor property provided to non-federal recipients within 1 year of receipt, and to ensure property is being used for its intended purpose 1 year after initial monitoring. (Recommendation 1)
Open
As of April 2022, the USDA Office of Property and Fleet Management stated it implemented certification documentation and an Excel spreadsheet tracking mechanism. The mechanism will track two years of property usage and send a notification 60 days before the end of the first year to the property management officer of the eligible Institutions asking for confirmation that the asset is still on-hand and has been placed in service for the purpose which it was acquired and will send another notification sixty days before the end of the second year to ensure the property has been used for that intended purpose for at least one year. We will review the documentation and continue to monitor USDA's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Office of the Secretary The Secretary of Energy should direct the Office of Asset Management to resume monitoring the Economic Development Property program, including property provided to non-federal recipients. (Recommendation 2)
Open
As of April 2022, DOE has provided relevant documentation such as a personal property reporting policy and the annual reporting memo. We have requested to meet with DOE officials to obtain clarification on documentation and to discuss actions taken on the Economic Development Program. We will continue to monitor DOE's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Office of the Secretary The Secretary of Labor should direct the Employment and Training Administration to take steps, such as reconciling data between Job Corps centers and the Job Corps National Office, to ensure that the entities responsible for overseeing and monitoring the Job Corps Program have accurate data on the excess property provided to non-federal recipients. (Recommendation 3)
Closed - Implemented
The federal government owns and manages over a trillion of dollars of property that is not real property, such as vehicles, computers, and office furniture. Federal agencies generally get rid of excess property through the General Services Administration's (GSA) disposal process, which then allows entities such as other federal agencies, to obtain that property if they want through GSA's online property system, known as GSAXcess. Some agencies have independent authorities that allow them to provide property to non-federal recipients, such as public entities or universities, before or during the GSA disposal process. Agencies establish regulations or guidance for managing the disposition of property, including excess property provided to non-federal recipients. Agencies also monitor this property to ensure, among other things, that non-federal recipients use the property within a reasonable period of time and for the purpose it was intended, according to agency regulations and program requirements. In December 2019, GAO reported that the Department of Labor (DOL) did not fully carry out their oversight and monitoring responsibilities to determine whether and how the property provided to non-federal recipients was used. Specifically, GAO found that the National Property Officer for DOL's Job Corps Program had retired in December 2018 and DOL had not yet hired a full-time National Property Officer responsible for periodically reviewing policies, procedures, and excess property provided to Job Corps centers. Further, it was unclear to what extent monitoring activities had been conducted within the National Office in the absence of a National Property Officer. In addition, GAO identified items that had been provided to Job Corps centers that were not tracked in DOL's internal property-management system and identified discrepancies between the excess personal property data provided by Job Corps Program officials compared to what was provided to Job Corps centers that GAO had visited. Therefore, GAO recommended that Secretary of Labor should direct the Employment and Training Administration to take steps, such as reconciling data between Job Corps centers and the Job Corps National Office, to ensure that the entities responsible for overseeing and monitoring the Job Corps Program have accurate data on the excess property provided to non-federal recipients. In 2022, GAO confirmed several actions that DOL had taken since 2020. In August 2020, a Job Corps Standard Operating Procedure 15.1 for Property Management was established, that, among other things, identified the Division Chief of the Division of Facilities and Asset Management as being the National Property Officer and designated that position as the approving official for all Job Corps GSAXcess personal property requests. The standard operating procedure also described the roles and responsibilities for all Job Corps employees for conducting regular oversight and monitoring of personal property. The standard operating procedure also established guidance to ensure accurate data reconciliation between Job Corps centers and the Office of Job Corps. In 2022, DOL clarified that it obtains monthly transfer reports, generated from GSAXcess, which lists all excess personal property requested by and provided to Job Corps centers. GAO confirmed that Job Corps property transfers are reviewed by Job Corps headquarters which are certified as received and accounted for without discrepancies. By taking these actions to make clear the roles and responsibilities for the oversight and monitoring of personal property and the accurate tracking of transferred data to non-federal recipients, the overall management of property provided to non-federal recipients and accuracy of DOL's data will be improved.
Department of Agriculture The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Office of Property and Fleet Management to establish clear processes to oversee property programs, including excess property provided to non-federal recipients across the agency. (Recommendation 4)
Open
As of April 2022, the USDA Office of Property and Fleet Management stated it would update and distribute the Federal Excess Personal Property Program Guide to current and new non-federal recipients and would provide annual training for new participating non-federal recipients. We will continue to monitor USDA's progress in updating the program guide and other steps taken toward implementing this recommendation.
Office of the Secretary The Secretary of Energy should direct the Office of Asset Management to update its regulations and guidance on programs that provide property to non-federal recipients to ensure regulations are current and establish a process to regularly communicate information about non-federal recipient programs to DOE program offices. (Recommendation 5)
Open
As of April 2022, DOE indicated that actions were taken on September 30, 2020 to update its internal policy and to provide personal property information on DOE's internal informational website known as Powerpedia. DOE said it is awaiting final approval and anticipates implementing this recommendation before the end of 2021. We have requested to meet with DOE officials to obtain clarification. GAO will continue to monitor DOE's efforts to implement this recommendation.
Office of the Administrator The GSA Administrator should direct the Office of Government-wide Policy to revise the Personal Property Reporting Tool by updating the authorities agencies can select. (Recommendation 6)
Closed - Implemented
The federal government owns and manages over a trillion of dollars of property that is not real property, such as vehicles, computers, and office furniture. Federal agencies generally get rid of excess property through the General Services Administration's (GSA) disposal process, which then allows entities such as other federal agencies, to obtain that property if they want. Some agencies have independent authorities that allow them to provide unneeded and excess property to non-federal recipients, such as public entities or universities, before or during the GSA disposal process. Federal agencies are required to annually report to GSA on property they provided to non-federal recipients and GSA publishes this information in a public Non-Federal Recipients Report. In December 2019, GAO reported that selected agencies identified benefits of providing unneeded and excess property to non-federal recipients, but the larger effects of these efforts are unknown because the government-wide data on property provided to non-federal recipients were unreliable. In particular, GSA's Personal Property Reporting Tool and guidance were unclear on how agencies should report these items. Specifically, GSA's Office of Government-wide Policy-the office responsible for developing government-wide policies for the management and disposal of property-had a limited Personal Property reporting tool that allowed those who were inputting the information to select authorities and programs that were not specific to their agencies. As a result, the data on the number of non-federal recipients obtaining property were not consistent. Therefore, GAO recommended that GSA direct the Office of Government-wide Policy to revise the Personal Property Reporting Tool by updating the authorities agencies can select. In 2021, GAO confirmed that GSA's Office of Government-wide Policy revised the Personal Property Reporting Tool by updating the authorities agencies could select in the drop-down menu. For example, GSA's Office of Government-wide Policy revised the Personal Property Reporting Tool to expand the list of authorities agencies may cite when providing property to non-federal recipients and revised it to ensure that agencies could not erroneously select an authority which is not available to the reporting agency. GSA officials also revised the Federal Management Regulation Bulletin that addressed agency reporting of property provided to non-federal recipients to include the updates to the drop down menu descriptions in the Personal Property Reporting Tool. By taking these actions to update the Personal Property Reporting Tool and bulletin to identify issues GAO found, GSA will be able to improve the reliability of data published in the Non-Federal Recipient Report and better understand the scope of property provided to non-federal recipients.
Office of the Administrator The GSA Administrator should direct the Office of Government-wide Policy to document in what circumstances excess property loaned to non-federal recipients should be reported and what property GSA is reporting on behalf of agencies, for example, by updating GSA guidance. (Recommendation 7)
Closed - Implemented
The federal government owns and manages over a trillion of dollars of property that is not real property, such as vehicles, computers, and office furniture. Federal agencies generally get rid of excess property through the General Services Administration's (GSA) disposal process, which then allows entities such as other federal agencies, to obtain that property if they want. Some agencies have independent authorities that allow them to provide property to non-federal recipients, such as public entities or universities, before or during the GSA disposal process. Federal agencies are required to annually report to GSA on property they provided to non-federal recipients and GSA publishes this information in a public Non-Federal Recipients Report. In December 2019, GAO reported that the government-wide data on property provided to non-federal recipients were unreliable, in part, because guidance was unclear on how agencies should report these items. In particular, federal agencies inconsistently reported on property loaned to non-federal recipients and underreported on excess property provided to these recipients, resulting in inaccurate government-wide data. Officials with the GSA's Office of Government-wide Policy-the office responsible for developing government-wide policies for the management and disposal of property-stated that there might be confusion among some agencies about whether excess property loaned to non-federal recipients needs to be reported when ownership remains with the federal government and that GSA guidance may not clearly specify whether and how loaned property should be reported. In addition, GSA officials stated that their guidance may have caused some confusion about what property agencies should report compared to the property that GSA reports on behalf of federal agencies. Therefore, GAO recommended that GSA direct the Office of Government-wide Policy to document in what circumstances excess property loaned to non-federal recipients should be reported and what property GSA is reporting on behalf of agencies, for example, by updating GSA guidance. In 2021, GAO confirmed that GSA's Office of Government-wide Policy revised the Federal Management Regulation Bulletin that addressed agency reporting of property to non-federal recipients to include expanded guidance on loans to these entities, in addition to clarifying which disposal transactions would be reported by GSA on behalf of agencies. By taking these actions to make clear what personal property is to be reported, the overall reliability and accuracy of government-wide data will be improved.

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