Federal Real Property: GSA Should Improve Accuracy, Completeness, and Usefulness of Public Data
The General Services Administration created a publicly available database of federal buildings, structures, and land. People can search the database for any reason, such as finding property to lease for a cell tower site.
We found numerous issues with the database which reduce its benefit. For example, 67% of addresses are incorrectly formatted or incomplete, making it hard to locate specific buildings when searching.
Lack of reliable data on federal assets is one of the main reasons Federal Real Property Management remains on our High Risk list. We made 6 recommendations to improve database accuracy, completeness, and usefulness.
Water towers misidentified in the database as office buildings
Three water towers
What GAO Found
The General Services Administration (GSA) has worked in recent years to improve reliability of the Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP), which tracks federal real property assets. However, numerous errors in the database were carried into the public version. GSA extracted data from the FRPP's 398,000 civilian federal assets to create a public database to be used, for example, by researchers and real estate developers. However, GSA's data verification process did not address key errors. GAO found that 67 percent of the street addresses in the public database were incomplete or incorrectly formatted. For example, the database lists “Greenbelt Road” as the address for over 200 buildings at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, but the road stretches over 6.3 miles, thereby reducing a user's ability to locate specific buildings.
Challenges Mapping Incomplete “Greenbelt Road” Street Address
The public database is not complete because GSA and selected agencies decided not to provide certain useful information. Specifically, GSA withheld assets' information without consulting those agencies managing the assets and allowed agencies to withhold information that is already publicly available. For example, GSA withheld the name “Goddard Space Flight Center” from the public database, but NASA's website lists this name and the Center's location. Unnecessarily withholding information limits the database's utility and undermines analysis.
The public database's usefulness is further limited by how GSA presents the information. Because the database does not identify if an asset is part of a secure installation, the public does not know if assets, such as the unnamed buildings at Goddard, are accessible to the public. Unless GSA improves the public database's accuracy, completeness, and usefulness, its benefits may not be realized.
Why GAO Did This Study
The lack of reliable data on federal assets is one of the main reasons Federal Real Property Management remains on GAO's high risk list. In 2016, legislation required GSA to publish a single, comprehensive, and descriptive database of federal real property that would be available to the public. The database could be used for research and other potential applications. GAO was asked to study the public database. This report assesses (1) GSA's efforts to improve the reliability of FRPP's data and the public database, (2) the public database's completeness, and (3) the presentation of the data in the public database.
GAO reviewed federal laws, documents, and data, including GSA's fiscal years 2017 and 2018 FRPP and public databases. GAO interviewed officials at GSA and from six federal agencies selected in locations with enough questionable data in the public database to analyze, among other things, and studied assets in Washington, D.C., Illinois, and New Mexico. GAO also interviewed selected stakeholders involved in federal real property management, such as real estate brokers.
GAO is making six recommendations to GSA, including improving the accuracy of the database, consulting with agencies on assets' information withheld from the database, and improving the public database's presentation. GSA agreed with five of the recommendations. GAO clarified the recommendation on withholding information on agencies' assets, to address GSA's comments.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|General Services Administration||
Priority Rec.The Administrator of GSA should coordinate with agencies to ensure that street address information in the public database is complete and correctly formatted. (Recommendation 1)
GSA agreed with the recommendation. GSA has taken several actions along with the Federal Real Property Council (FRPC) to improve the quality of the street address information in the Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP) public database. First, GSA officials revised the data-reporting standards to favor longitude and latitude coordinates instead of street addresses. Second, GSA published a web-based geospatial validation tool to assist agencies in identifying and correcting erroneous geographic data elements. Third, the Federal Real Property Council Data Governance Working Group, which GSA supports, developed a phased action plan that commits member agencies to accurately report geographic data elements. In August 2022, GSA informed us that it had published the web-based geospatial validation tool and plans to continue to implement and support both the tool and the action plan. In addition, GSA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) are reviewing the agency-submitted Data Quality Improvement Plan documents, as required by OMB Memorandum M-18-21 (Designation and Responsibilities of Agency Senior Real Property Officers). We will continue to monitor their effectiveness as results become available in 2023. An effective validation tool and action plan would improve the accuracy of the street address information in the FRPP database.
|General Services Administration||The Administrator of GSA should coordinate with agencies to review V&V anomaly categories to better target incorrect data. (Recommendation 2)||
GSA has taken steps to address this recommendation. In August 2022, GSA officials said that GSA set a goal to reach 75% accuracy for their fiscal year 2022 data set, which it plans to release later in 2023. Also, GSA found that the number of data anomalies decreased from 15% in 2019 to 12% in 2020. We will continue to monitor the number of anomalies and the quality of the resulting data when GSA releases the 2022 data.
|General Services Administration||The Administrator of GSA should work in consultation with agencies to determine which, if any, data should be withheld from public release. (Recommendation 3)||
As of August 2022, GAO is awaiting GSA's release of the 2021 public data on federal real property. GAO will assess GSA efforts to implement this recommendation once the agency releases the data. GAO will continue to monitor GSA progress and will update the status of this recommendation comments accordingly.
|General Services Administration||The Administrator of GSA should instruct each agency to apply a consistent, risk-based approach in determining which, if any, assets or asset-specific information should be withheld from public release. (Recommendation 4)||
GSA agreed with this recommendation. As of August 2022, GSA is working with relevant agencies to address this recommendation. GAO will assess GSA efforts to implement this recommendation once the agency releases the 2021 public data on federal real property. GAO will continue to monitor GSA progress and will update the status comments accordingly.
|General Services Administration||The Administrator of GSA should allow agencies to provide summary data for secure installations. (Recommendation 5)||
As of August 2022, GSA confirmed that the Federal Real Property Council was working to implement this recommendation. GAO will continue to monitor GSA progress and will update the status of this recommendation comments accordingly.
|General Services Administration||The Administrator of GSA should link all of GSA's publicly available realproperty data sources. (Recommendation 6)||
In 2016, legislation required GSA to publish a single, comprehensive, and descriptive database of federal real property that would be available to the public. In response to the legislation, GSA created a public database-a subset of the Federal Real Property Profile's 398,000 real property assets-and made it publicly available in 2017. In 2020, GAO reported, however, that six of the 14 private sector stakeholders GAO interviewed were not aware of the public database, including a stakeholder who confused it with GSA's Lease Inventory database. Several selected stakeholders-regardless of whether or not they had used the database-cited concerns about the usefulness of the data. The lack of a single location on GSA's website that contains information about all of GSA's real property databases may contribute to the awareness, confusion, and usefulness issues expressed by these stakeholders. Specifically, the public access points to the public database, GSA's Lease Inventory database, and two other publicly available real-property databases were located in four different places on GSA's website. GSA officials agreed that there could be clearer links and said that they planned to add them based on GAO's findings. Without a consolidated webpage or clear links showing how the databases relate to each other and how to access each database, users of the various databases may not be aware of what databases do exist to search for assets that could be available to the public. Therefore, GAO recommended that GSA link all of its publicly available real property data sources. In November 2020, GAO confirmed that GSA had created a single entry point for its real property data. As a result, GSA has enhanced public access to the agency's real property databases that, in turn, should improve their usefulness and public awareness.