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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 03/ 2/2011

White House revamping plan to sell federal buildings

By Ed O'Keefe


Federal buildings like this one may one day be sold to private developers. (Post)

Eye Opener

Updated 9:31 a.m. ET
The Obama administration is hoping to revamp plans to sell off thousands of federal buildings by recruiting outside experts to determine which office towers, courthouses and warehouses the government no longer needs.

Once established, a new independent commission would recommend potential savings to Congress, ideally identifying at least $15 billion in potential cuts in the next three years, according to plans set for release Tuesday. Nobody yet has been asked to serve on the board, but the White House plans to recruit public and private sector experts, according to administration officials familiar with the plans who shared details Tuesday evening.

"Larger scale reform is needed to achieve larger-scale results," said one official, not authorized to speak publicly about the plans.

The new commission is an expansion of orders Obama made last summer to cut $3 billion worth of building costs by identifying locations the government could divest to private owners.

The federal government owns and operates about 1.2 million buildings and other structures around the world with a total annual operating and maintenance budget of $19 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget. About 14,000 properties are vacant and another 55,000 underused, according to a government audit.

But a cumbersome review process and the lack of public information on what properties might be placed on the market has earned criticism from government auditors and private developers.

A recent Government Accountability Office report cited properties in California and Missouri that the government declared surplus in 2002 but had yet to sell by 2009. Locally, lawmakers are eager for the government to finally decide whether to sell the Old Post Office Pavilion -- a mostly-vacant federal property located ideally situated along the Pennsylvania Ave. corridor.

Commercial real estate experts don't expect the government to meet its goal of saving $8 billion because most of the excess properties are likely old, poorly located World War II-era sites.

Even well-located sites fail to earn top dollar: A federal building in downtown Bethesda sold last summer in an online auction for $12.5 million; the asking price was $14 million and the opening bid was just $100.

Expect the White House on Tuesday to link the new board to its Accountable Government Initiative, an ongoing effort to cut wasteful government contracts, move more government services to the Internet and cut $33 billion in costs as part of Obama's 2012 budget.

Capital Business writer Jonathan O'Connell contributed to this report.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Cabinet and Staff News: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warns of a "long civil war" in Libya. The Bob Woodward vs. Donald Rumsfeld feud continues. White House names Medal of Arts and Humanities honorees. Attorney General Eric Holder says focus on Black Panther case demeans "my people." First Lady Michelle Obama's cousin may become Chicago's top cop. Federal support for home loans essential, according to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Supreme Court justices are talking more, listening less.

BUDGET:
Government shutdown avoided for now, with a two-week funding extension: The bill eliminates dozens of earmarks and a handful of little-known programs that President Obama has identified as unnecessary.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT:
Pentagon hesitant on no-fly zone over Libya: It's preparing "a lot of options and contingencies" for President Obama to consider.

Lt. Gen. John Kelly, who lost son to war, says U.S. largely unaware of sacrifice: Less than 1 percent of the population serves in uniform at a time when the country is engaged in one of the longest periods of sustained combat in its history.

GAY RIGHTS & THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION:
African Americans respond to Obama's shift on DOMA: Some say the decision is dismaying, though not damning. Others may be rethinking their views, given the influence Obama has in the African American community.

GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT:
Rep. Darrell Issa fires trusted aide Kurt Bardella: A review of his e-mails showed he sent e-mails from other reporters seeking information about Issa's work to the reporter for the New York Times who was working on the book.

U.S. POSTAL SERVICE:
Postal Service aid plans would jeopardize federal retirement funds, watchdog says: Despite declining mail volume and the sagging popularity of snail mail, most of the Postal Service's financial woes stem from growing labor costs.

SEC:
SEC levels insider charges against ex-Goldman director: Rajat K. Gupta, who headed McKinsey & Co. from 1994 to 2000, was charged with insider trading in a civil administrative proceeding filed by the SEC's Division of Enforcement on Tuesday.

TSA:
TSA employee charged with helping drug dealers at airport: Police said the worker is alleged to have assisted "known drug traffickers" with information and with getting through airport security checkpoint.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | March 2, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Next: Federal workers union gathers uneasily for conference

Comments

Can we throw in the members of Congress, plus the whole Obama administration ....... that action might even save this country.

These greedy, self centered people certain do not care for this country or it's people ..... their actions prove it.

Posted by: bkarpus | March 2, 2011 7:49 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, let's spend decades...hell, eons, building a portfolio of commercial properties and then wait for the largest crash in nearly a century to dump them all.

Absolutely-freakin'-brilliant!

Don't blame me, I vote Libertarian!

Posted by: sosueme1 | March 2, 2011 8:11 AM | Report abuse

Before we start selling our buildings how about not renting unnecessarily? NIH has more than 50 buildings of its own on an exclusive campus and rents thousands of sq.feet of additional space around the bulging campus. 80 percent of about 40 billion of NIH money is used outside these premises all over the country on various academic campuses. Having worked with NIH over the last 40 years, the waste of NIH is exemplified by its extravagant security laced unnecessary rental buildings in Bethesda MD. I can imagine similar waste elsewhere.

Posted by: yameenzusnet | March 2, 2011 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Why does the government have vacant offices in a prime DC location while it rents space for people in Crystal City and other parts of the DC area?

Instead of selling off these properties, renovate them and move out of more expensive commercial properties currently leased. Sell off the ones that will likely never be used, but get rid of leased space first.

Posted by: LeoNoVA | March 2, 2011 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Gee, how many federal employees does it take to manage 69,000 buildings? Do they disappear as well?

You know it has to a lot of deadwood.

Now they'll have to hire more folks just to have an auction and give them retirement and collective bargaining rights.

Just turn the whole mess over to a real estate auction firm and dump them. It could be done in six months.

And keep Congress' sticky fingers out of the process.

Posted by: wesatch | March 2, 2011 8:57 AM | Report abuse

To sell government buildings would be a very bad move. Just look at Chicago. The USA goverment should get out of Amtrack and require the railroads to give the people fright & passenger service as required by the land the goverment gave the railroads. If not, take the land and sell it to some USA company that will. Why should the USA goverment be in any railroad business?

Posted by: usapdx | March 2, 2011 9:14 AM | Report abuse

I don't get it. You are building new facilities for Homeland Security and other agencies but you have this much vacant space in the Washington area. SMFH!!!

Posted by: cymp65 | March 2, 2011 9:40 AM | Report abuse

I'm in favor. Maybe DC will finally be able to collect property tax on some of these locations.

Posted by: dkp01 | March 2, 2011 9:44 AM | Report abuse

C'mon, ED - Why the picture of HUD on this article? It's not one of the 14,000 vacant, excess, or surplus properties in the report!

Posted by: lrcharest | March 2, 2011 1:38 PM | Report abuse

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