By Ariel Levin-Waldman
Special to Federal News Radio
The government has more than 7,000 underused properties valued at about $350 billion. But at least one agency is doing its part to reduce that figure.
The FBI announced the finalists for a proposed new headquarters in the Washington metro area.
Along with the General Services Administration, the FBI today publicized a short list of potential locations: the Greenbelt Metro and Landover in Prince George’s County, Maryland,or the GSA Franconia Warehouse Complex in Springfield, Virginia
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The agencies say the consolidation is an effort to shrink the FBI’s property footprint and save hundreds of millions of dollars.
Currently, the FBI has more than 3 million square feet of office space in more than 20 leased locations.
A GSA spokesman said in a release that the agency will conduct National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews on each of the three sites, which includes opportunities for public comment. During the NEPA review, GSA will issue the first of a two-phase request for proposal (RFP) to developers. The second phase includes the solicitation of development proposals from qualified developers identified in the first phase.
The FBI project is only the beginning for the government if lawmakers have their way.
House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations members heard Tuesday from GSA, the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Office of Management and Budget about their plans for reducing waste and mismanagement of federal real property.
The hearing showcased an ongoing three-part plan to reduce wasteful costs under the Freeze the Footprint initiative. OMB goals are to freeze the growth of property inventory, measure performance and find opportunities to improve efficiency, and reduce overall inventory by consolidating and disposing existing property.
GAO reported that agencies made strides in energy efficiency, disposal of extra property and space consolidation to the tune of $3.8 billion — most of which came from space management savings.
GSA worked with OMB to create a property inventory and draft property management plans for agencies to share space. GSA received $70 million from Congress and created a plan to save $17 million in rent each year and cut the federal footprint by 507,000 square feet, said Michael Gelber, GSA’s deputy commissioner of the Public Buildings Service.
VA reported success with repurposing and disposing assets. VA cut unused buildings by 28 percent and underused buildings by 37 percent, said James Sullivan, VA’s director of the Office of Enterprise Office Management. Sullivan said VA has plans to dispose or reuse most of the remaining 242 underused buildings by 2018.
But GAO’s David Wise, the director of the Physical Infrastructure Team, said bad recordkeeping and a lack of transparency are preventing the government from saving more.
The federal real estate index, the Federal Real Property Profile, is not recorded consistently or accurately, Wise said.
“GSA fully acknowledges that the FRPP needs to improve,” said Gelber said. “The definitions within the database need to be revised and tightened up so that when agencies are putting information into the database, they are doing it from a uniform standard.”
Even when agencies follow procedures to eliminate or repurpose property there are setbacks, Wise said. He said the challenges include: Property disposal costs can outweigh the financial benefits of selling to private buyers; legal requirements on historic buildings can make disposing of, selling or repurposing them lengthy and unattractive; and stakeholder interests can conflict, making repurposing very difficult.
Wise said OMB impedes the record keeping process.
“OMB did not require agencies to provide detailed documentation of their reported savings or include specific information about agencies’ reported savings on Performance.gov, limiting transparency. OMB guidance was also not clear on the types of savings that could be reported, particularly because the term ‘cost savings’ was not clearly defined,” Wise said.
Lawmakers have been after agencies to do a better job of disposing of real property for the last few years.
The Obama administration offered a proposal to create a civilian version of the Defense Department’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) effort, and issued a memo to freeze the federal footprint. Lawmakers also introduced several bills to change the approach of how GSA and agencies get rid of real property, but progress has been slow.
Under the Freeze the Footprint initiative, OMB required agencies to submit three- year Revised Real Property Cost Savings and Innovation Plans by May 15, 2013, that narrowly focused on how they maintained their 2012 real estate footprint and include a prospective analysis of spending for the next three years.
Ariel Levin-Waldman is an intern with Federal News Radio