Senators crack down on agencies’ real property consolidation

Federal agencies could have more requirements for keeping track of real property and new incentives to get rid of the office space they don’t need.

The Federal Property Management Reform Act would require agencies to keep an inventory of their real property, along with details on how much spaces cost, how often they get used and how they fit into their broader management plans.

“It would also give agencies the resources they need to sell and better manage their assets,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) in a statement. “All told, this bill is a win-win for agencies and the taxpayers.”

Carper, along with Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) Angus King (I-Maine) and James Lankford (R-Okla.), introduced the legislation.

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Specifically, the legislation would let agencies keep some of the proceeds they earn on selling or leasing unneeded property, but the extra resources must go toward getting rid of other property or investing in federal property personnel.

The bill tasks the Federal Real Property Council with more responsibility. The council will develop guidance on consolidating office space and ensure that agencies are following it.

“Our bill will also look at designing postal vehicles that are better equipped to handle the challenges of delivering mail in rural areas, which was a key provision in my bill to improve mail delivery in rural communities,” Heitkamp said. “By working with Senator Carper, we were also able to include a provision that directs the Federal Property Council to examine the use of public-private partnerships to better manage federal property by harnessing private sector expertise.”

The bill also codifies the National Strategy for the Efficient Use of Real Property, a memo that OMB issued last year, as a permanent fixture in agencies’ property management plans. The memo required that agencies set annual square foot reduction goals.

Real property management has made the Government Accountability Office’s “high risk” list every year since 2003.

By some estimates, agencies spend nearly $1.7 billion on 75,000 empty and under-utilized federal buildings, Lankford said.

Despite several initiatives from the administration, agencies are still struggling to get rid of property they don’t use, a 2015 GAO study found.

In recent years policies such as the Office of Management and Budget’s “Freeze the Footprint” initiative helped agencies make some progress in shedding unneeded and under-utilized office space.

In 2014, civilian and DoD agencies got rid of 7,315 buildings, including office space and warehouse space, that totaled 47 million square feet of space, OMB said.

Carper has long pushed for federal property reform. He introduced the Federal Buildings Personnel Training Act in 2010, which mandated that the General Services Administration add more training and resources for its employees who operate and maintain federal buildings.

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