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Nowadays, real estate and the word "glut" come hand in hand.
There’s been a glut of homes for sale. A glut in available commercial properties.
There’s also a lesser-known glut in properties owned by the federal government that it no longer needs or does not fully utilize. It existed years before the economy took a tumble in the late 2000s, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
By U.S. Rep. Tom Graves’ reckoning, the federal real estate glut is serious enough to earn his vote on a bill that aims to save tax dollars by streamlining the process to get rid of those properties.
"The federal government owns tens of thousands of properties that are vacant or underused," the Ranger Republican said in a March 20 press release announcing his vote.
This number struck your PolitiFact Georgia scribes as high. Hundreds would be well within reason. Thousands? Sure. But tens of thousands?
We asked Graves spokeswoman Jennifer Hazelton for more information. She sent us a link to a February 2011 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, "Federal Real Property: The Government Faces Challenges to Disposing of Unneeded Buildings."
"In fiscal year 2009, 24 federal agencies including the Department of Defense reported 45,190 underutilized buildings that cost $1.66 billion annually to operate," the report stated.
Underutilized buildings are those that are not being used to their fullest capacity. Some buildings owned by the federal government are even sitting empty.
We cross-checked the data with the General Services Administration, which is often billed as the government’s landlord. According to its yearly property reports, the number of underutilized buildings numbered 43,360 in fiscal year 2008 and 45,190 in fiscal year 2009. These properties were valued at more than $1.6 billion.
The problem of surplus buildings came to the attention of President Barack Obama, who issued a 2010 memorandum directing federal agencies to speed up the process of identifying and getting rid of unneeded space.
Obama aims to save at least $3 billion by fiscal year 2012, but the GAO report raised concerns that he may be unable to meet that goal because the process of selling government buildings is tangled in red tape.
The bill Graves mentioned in his press release would create a pilot program that would streamline the process. The Excess Federal Building and Property Disposal Act of 2012, or HR 665, passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is before the Senate.
A congressional hearing on the issue took place March 22 -- ironically, on excess federal property.
The 89,000-square-foot Cotton Annex, which is near the National Mall in Washington, has been unoccupied for about five years, according to Republicans on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Its managers said the building remains a moneymaker because the Federal Protective Service is renting it to inspect delivery trucks.
Graves is right. Tens of thousands of federal properties are vacant or underused. He earns a True.
U.S. Rep. Tom Graves’ website, "Rep. Graves Votes to Save Taxpayer Dollars by Selling Federal Properties," March 20, 2012
U.S. Government Accountability Office, "Federal Real Property: The Government Faces Challenges to Disposing of Unneeded Buildings," Feb. 10, 2011
U.S. Government Printing Office, HR 665, 112th Congress, March 21, 2012
Thomas.gov, HR 665, Excess Federal Building and Property Disposal Act of 2012, 112th Congress (2011-2012)
The Washington Post, "Excess federal building hearing to be held inside one," March 22, 2012
U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, briefing on "Sitting on Our Assets: The Cotton Annex," March 16, 2012
Washington Business Journal, "GSA not keen on Cotton Annex sale," March 22, 2012
U.S. General Services Administration, Federal Real Property Council summary report for fiscal year 2010, accessed March 26, 2012
WhiteHouse.gov, federal excess properties map, accessed March 26, 2012
WhiteHouse.gov, "Presidential Memorandum--Disposing of Unneeded Federal Real Estate," June 10, 2010
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