A Bill | Empty Federal Buildings

Senate Bill 1398 Federal Real Property Asset Management Act of 2013

Kristen Hinman

The U.S. is the biggest property owner in the country

SIGN: ALAMY; BUILDING: ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG

The Essentials

1. The U.S. government spends an estimated $1.7 billion annually keeping up vacant and underused buildings. A key reason agencies don’t unload the properties: By law they first have to offer them for free to homeless-services providers and forgo sale proceeds. S. 1398 sets aside that requirement temporarily, creating a five-year program to fast-track the sale of 1,000 properties. The idea is to cut waste and make money by selling the most desirable buildings to the private sector.

2. Before any “for sale” signs go up, the administration needs an accurate picture of the inventory. Federal records show 6,700 empty buildings and 71,000 that aren’t fully occupied. Yet government auditors have discovered that agencies calculate “underused” in different ways. The bill requires a group of federal real estate experts to come up with clear guidelines and forces agencies to spell out the status of their holdings in a public database every year.

3. A similar proposal never got a full Senate vote last year; one with a less aggressive approach passed the House unanimously. This year’s prospects in both chambers look promising as Republicans focus on belt-tightening and Democrats seek to lessen the sequester’s impact on agencies. The bill says the seller would get 18 percent of sale proceeds; 80 percent would go toward debt reduction and 2 percent to fund grants for the homeless.

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