Lack of Information, Procedural Hurdles Hamper Excess Property Disposal, Committee Hears

WASHINGTON — Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) held a hearing Tuesday on the federal government’s mismanagement of property that it owns and leases. “It seems like there’s two basic problems,” Johnson said: A lack of information and unnecessary hurdles making it difficult for agencies to dispose of properties. “Let’s agree on some pretty simple solutions,” Johnson said. 

Witnesses from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified. 

Johnson sought specific figures on how much civilian and defense property the government owns. 

Norman Dong, GSA commissioner, testified that GSA manages 377 million square feet of property. “That is just a portion of the larger holdings within the federal government,” he told Johnson. “I think it’s probably about 10 percent of the total.” 

“There’s a total of 254,000 owned buildings, 21,000 leased buildings,” David Mader, OMB controller, told Johnson. “That’s almost 2.8 billion square feet of space.” 

Mader said the space is categorized as either underutilized, meaning the space is not being maximized to its fullest potential, unutilized, meaning the space is temporarily vacant or being held for future use, or pure excess — not being used at all. “For buildings,” Mader said, “we have 1,615 underutilized, 3,360 unutilized and 4,465 pure excess.” He did not have corresponding square-foot figures. 

“That’s a lot of excess property — that’s close to 10,000 in one way, shape or form,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of dollar value wrapped up in that, I would assume.” 

Johnson asked David Wise, director of physical infrastructure issues at the GAO, about red tape.  “What hoops, what hurdles do federal employees and managers of these things have to go through just to get rid of property?” he asked. 

“We really don’t have a great handle on exactly what we have and how it’s being used,” Wise said. “The other part of it is the disposal process is a complicated process given the current legislative environment, and that’s an area perhaps where Congress can be of assistance.” 

“I think one lesson learned,” Johnson said of the property disposal process, “is sometimes it’s very difficult to achieve one goal, but when you start tacking on a second and third goal, it makes it all that much more complicated.” 

“We need to simplify things,” he said. 

Chairman Johnson’s full written opening statement can be found here

The full hearing can be viewed here