Taxpayers Paying Billions to Upkeep Vacant Gov't Buildings

Tuesday, 26 Mar 2013 10:59 PM

By Todd Beamon

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The federal government this month sold a prime piece of real estate in Washington — for $19.5 million — after it sat vacant for 10 years.

The sale of the steam-generating plant, located in Georgetown with a spectacular view of the Potomac River, illustrates how slowly the federal government moves in disposing of the 55,000 to 77,000 vacant properties it owns or leases, Fox News reports.

In selling the properties off, the General Services Administration could save taxpayers $3 billion to $8 billion a year — as soon as an exact inventory has been completed, according to Fox.

No one knows exactly how many such properties the government owns or leases, Fox reports.

“These properties could be used first to consolidate agencies that now are in leased buildings,” D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton told Fox.

“This is a problem that has been identified for years, and every time someone in the White House says ‘let's sell property,’ the red tape is simply too much for this process,” said Tom Schatz, of Citizens Against Government Waste.

At a hearing in the steam-generating plant last year, GOP Rep. Jeff Denham of California berated GSA officials about the drawn-out process of selling off buildings.

“You can't get your job done!” Denham said, according to Fox. “I don't care if it's a Republican or Democratic administration, the job is not getting done!”

The process has been hampered by a law Congress passed in 1987 that stipulates that unused government properties first had to be offered to other federal agencies, then to state agencies — and then for use as homeless shelters — before being put on the market, Fox reports.

“We spend about $8 billion a year maintaining properties that we have no use for,” Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma told Fox. “That $8 billion is just thrown down the drain, because we can't get past the homeless lobby to get a common-sense way to take care of their problems and allow us to unload properties.”

Norton, who serves in the House of Representatives, told Fox that the Oversight and Government Reform Committee has passed a bill to expedite the sales process.

“I think it has a good chance of getting all the way to the Senate,” she told Fox.

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