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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Agencies urge legislation to ease disposal of excess property

Top officials of five federal agencies Thursday asked for legislative help to clear obstacles they face in disposing of an estimated 21,000 federal properties no longer used but worth $17 billion.

Clay Johnson III, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Financial Management Subcommittee his office will propose a five-year pilot program that would give agencies incentives, more flexibility and additional tools to help them dispose of unneeded property.

Asked the extent of the challenge, Johnson told the panel his full report is due June 15 but gave the preliminary estimate of 21,000 excess properties. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Financial Management Subcommittee Chairman Thomas Carper, D-Del., said he is working up legislation on the matter but he wants to see action before five years are up. "I'd like to pick up the pace," he said.

Offering another measure of federal property management challenges, Mark Goldstein, director of Physical Infrastructure Issues for the Government Accountability Office, reported his staff found a backlog of $77 billion in maintenance in the entire federal government's inventory of 1.2 million properties.

A major barrier to disposing of a building or piece of land is the cost of arranging and going through with a sale. Sometimes holding onto the property and "going another year" deferring maintenance on a piece of property seems cheaper to a federal agency with annual budget concerns than selling it, Johnson said.

-Basil Talbott, GovExec.com

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