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Monday, October 21, 2013

Disposal of Unneeded Federal Buildings: Legislative Proposals in the 113th Congress

Garrett Hatch
Specialist in American National Government

Real property disposal is the process by which federal agencies identify and then transfer, donate, or sell real property they no longer need. Disposition is an important asset management function because the costs of maintaining unneeded properties can be substantial, consuming financial resources that might be applied to long-standing real property needs, such as repairing existing facilities, or other pressing policy issues, such as reducing the national debt.

Despite the expense, federal agencies hold thousands of unneeded and underutilized properties. Agencies have argued that they are unable to dispose of these properties for several reasons. First, there are statutorily prescribed steps in the disposal process that can take months to complete. Second, agencies are often required to complete major repairs or environmental remediation before properties are ready for disposal—steps for which agencies lack funding. Third, key stakeholders in the disposal process—including local governments, non-profit organizations, and businesses—are often at odds over how to dispose of properties. In addition, Congress may be limited in its capacity to conduct oversight of the disposal process because it currently lacks access to reliable, comprehensive real property data.

Three bills have been introduced in the 113
th Congress that propose significant changes to the existing real property disposal system. The Federal Real Property Asset Management Reform Act of 2013 (S. 1398), would establish an expedited disposal program under which 200 properties would be exempt from time-consuming, statutory disposal requirements. In addition, S. 1398 would expand the role of an interagency workgroup, the Federal Real Property Council, to set disposal goals for agencies and monitor their progress in meeting those goals. The bill would also increase oversight of agency disposal activities by requiring the Administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA) to establish a real property database available to the public at no cost.

The Excess Federal Building and Property Disposal Act of 2013 (H.R. 328) would establish an expedited disposal program under which the 15 unneeded federal properties with the highest fair market value would bypass statutory disposal requirements and be offered for sale immediately. H.R. 328 would also require the GSA Administrator to establish a real property database available to the public at no cost and provide a report to Congress on the progress each landholding agency has made in reducing its unneeded property.

The Civilian Property Realignment Act (H.R. 695) would centralize the disposal process by establishing a Civilian Property Realignment Commission, which would work with agencies to develop a list of disposal recommendations to the President. If the President approved the recommendations, then they would be sent to Congress. If Congress passed a joint resolution of approval then agencies would be required to implement the recommendations; if a joint resolution of approval was not passed then the realignment process would end for the fiscal year.

Date of Report: September 27, 2013
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: R43247
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