Federal Personal Property: Better Internal Guidance and More Action from GSA Are Needed to Help Agencies Maximize Use of Excess

GAO-22-104626 Published: Jun 28, 2022. Publicly Released: Jun 28, 2022.
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Fast Facts

Every year, federal agencies purchase hundreds of millions of dollars of "personal property," which includes things like office chairs and cars. They also dispose of excess property—things they no longer need.

Federal regulation requires agencies to consider whether excess federal property can meet their needs. It is generally available to them for free.

We found that from 2016 to 2020, agencies obtained $3.9 billion (based on original cost) in excess property—a small part of what was available. We found ways agency guidance could be improved to help maximize the use of excess property and save money. Our recommendations address this issue.

Reusing excess property, like office chairs, maximizes government assets and minimizes new purchase costs.

many red, blue, black, and gray office chairs pushed together in a room

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Before purchasing “personal property,” which ranges from office supplies and food to precious metals, the Federal Management Regulation (FMR) requires executive agencies to consider whether excess property, already owned by the government, can meet their needs. Excess property is generally available at no charge (excluding costs to transport or ship) to agencies. From 2016 to 2020, agencies government-wide obtained $3.9 billion—based on the property's original acquisition cost—in excess personal property. Comparing $3.9 billion to the $206 billion in property agencies purchased in the same time period, excess property was not a significant source of supply. Further, this $3.9 billion represented a small part of the excess property available to agencies (see figure). It is unclear whether agencies could have obtained excess property to a greater extent because data on purchases and on excess property do not contain enough detail to correlate specific products agencies purchased to specific products available as excess. In addition, some categories of property agencies purchased—such as perishables and national security sensitive items—are not typically available as excess.

Percentage of Reported Excess Personal Property Obtained by Agencies Government-Wide by Number and Value, Fiscal Years 2016 to 2020

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GAO identified four essential elements from the FMR on considering excess property that agencies should address in their internal guidance. These elements include determining when it is practicable to check for and obtain excess property and evaluating the suitability of excess property to meet agency needs. The guidance at five selected agencies —Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA); Customs and Border Protection (CBP); Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—varied, but none addressed all four elements. For example, two agencies' guidance addressed three elements while one agency's guidance did not address any. Without guidance that addresses the four elements, agencies may not be obtaining excess property to the extent they could in order to minimize expenditures for new property. The General Services Administration (GSA) is responsible for promoting the maximum use of excess property by executive agencies and issued the FMR and other guidance for agencies. However, GAO's findings indicate that these efforts may be insufficient, and GSA officials said GSA has not assessed its current efforts or other actions that could increase agencies' use of excess. After such an assessment, for example, GSA may be able to take actions that could help agencies more consistently meet the requirement to consider excess and increase the likelihood that agencies will maximize their use of excess property and save taxpayer dollars.

Why GAO Did This Study

Every year, executive agencies purchase billions of dollars of personal property while also disposing of property that is excess, or no longer needed. This excess personal property represents a significant government investment and its reuse maximizes government assets and minimizes new purchase costs.

GAO was asked to review federal use of excess personal property. This report: (1) describes what is known about the extent that agencies obtained excess personal property and (2) assesses the extent to which selected agencies' internal guidance addressed elements from the FMR for considering excess property and opportunities for GSA to promote the use of excess. GAO reviewed federal regulations and analyzed data on purchases of personal property and on excess property obtained. GAO reviewed five agencies' guidance on considering excess property and interviewed agency and GSA officials. GAO selected BIA, CBP, FAA, SEC, and USAID based on the amounts of property they purchased and excess property they reported and obtained.

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Recommendations

GAO is making six recommendations, including (1) that each selected agency ensure its internal guidance on considering excess property fully addresses the FMR elements and (2) that GSA assess its efforts to promote agencies' maximum use of excess property and take action that will help agencies implement better guidance. All selected agencies agreed with our recommendations. GSA agreed with our findings and said it would take action on our recommendation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Bureau of Indian Affairs The Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs should ensure that internal guidance on considering excess personal property incorporates, at a minimum, the requirement to consider excess property, relevant roles and responsibilities, when it is practicable to check for and obtain excess property, and how to evaluate the suitability of excess property for meeting agency needs. (Recommendation 1)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Customs and Border Protection The Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection should ensure that internal guidance on considering excess personal property incorporates, at a minimum, when it is practicable to check for and obtain excess property and how to evaluate the suitability of excess property for meeting agency needs. (Recommendation 2)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Federal Aviation Administration The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration should ensure that internal guidance on considering excess personal property incorporates, at a minimum, relevant roles and responsibilities, when it is practicable to check for and obtain excess property, and how to evaluate the suitability of excess property for meeting agency needs. (Recommendation 3)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Securities and Exchange Commission The Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission should ensure that internal guidance on considering excess personal incorporates, at a minimum, the requirement to consider excess property, relevant roles and responsibilities, when it is practicable to check for and obtain excess property, and how to evaluate the suitability of excess property for meeting agency needs. (Recommendation 4)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
U.S. Agency for International Development The Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development should ensure that internal guidance on considering excess personal property incorporates, at a minimum, relevant roles and responsibilities, when it is practicable to check for and obtain excess property, and how to evaluate the suitability of excess property for meeting agency needs. (Recommendation 5)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
General Services Administration The Administrator of the General Services Administration should assess its current efforts to promote the maximum use of excess personal property and take further actions that could increase the use of excess personal property; such actions could include promoting additional policies or methods that will help agencies implement guidance to provide assurance that excess property is considered before purchasing new. (Recommendation 6)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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