New Report Finds Serious Inefficiencies in Federal Homeless Assistance Program

WASHINGTON – A federal program meant to help homeless assistance providers is inefficient and flawed, wasting time and resources for both the federal government and the groups it is designed to help, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, highlighted GAO’s findings that the federal government has evaluated more than 40,000 federal properties for use by homeless assistance providers, but has only transferred 122 properties to homeless groups in 27 years and underscored GAO’s recommendations for the federal government to improve its homeless assistance program.

The report examined Title V of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which was established in 1987 to help identify and provide unused federal properties to homeless assistance organizations for use as emergency shelter, traditional housing, and other services. As part of the McKinney-Vento Act, federal agencies are required to report all properties that are considered excess, surplus, underutilized, and unutilized to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as potential options for usage.

GAO found that a majority of the properties that are required to be screened to determine whether they are suitable to be transferred to homeless assistance organizations are not viable and should not be put forward for screening in the first place. As a result, homeless organizations spend unnecessary time and resources reviewing HUD’s suitability determination to find property that they can apply for. GAO recommends that Congress should take steps to alter the broad scope of properties that are reported to HUD and identify those that are less viable options for homeless assistance. GAO also recommends reducing the number of times reporting is required.

“This report confirms many of the concerns homeless assistance providers have told us for years – that the process to find useful properties is burdensome, costly, and ineffective,” said Chairman Carper. “Much of this results from the federal government’s overall challenges managing its federal property portfolio. There is a general consensus that the federal government has to get smarter about the way it manages buildings and land. While the GAO report recommends a number of common-sense steps that should be implemented, more work remains to get a better handle of our massive federal property portfolio. Last year, Dr. Coburn and I introduced legislation that would help reduce waste and inefficiency by requiring all federal agencies to not only maintain a comprehensive inventory of their properties, but to also take a hard look at which assets they actually need and which could be sold or put to better use, including properties that could help some of our nation’s most vulnerable. I will continue to work with my colleagues and the Administration to improve our federal property management practices, including passing this legislation.”

“Many taxpayers wonder how so many Americans lack stable housing or are homeless when the federal government spends billions every year on housing assistance,” said Dr. Coburn. “This report highlights one reason and it is not a lack of funds but rather a lack of efficient management. The federal government wasted time and resources evaluating over 40,000 federal properties for use by homeless assistance providers, but only 122 properties were transferred  to homeless groups in 27 years. This pitiful performance demonstrates a clear lack of urgency about the plight of families in need.”

The Federal Real Property Asset Reform Act of 2013, introduced by Senators Carper, Coburn, Begich, Portman, Pryor, and Tester last year, would codify a 2004 executive order and require the previously established Federal Real Property Council to oversee reductions in federal real property inventory. The bill would also require agencies to continuously survey their real property to identify excess and underutilized property and to report any excess or underutilized property to the Administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Federal Real Property Council, a process that agencies do not always consistently follow. Finally, it would also establish a pilot program for the expedited disposal of surplus real property. The bill was also included as a provision of the Postal Reform Act of 2014.