The U.S. government could save taxpayers up to $8 billion by selling off the estimated 55,000 to 77,000 vacant properties it owns or leases.
At a time when the White House says it cannot find the $18,000 a week it needs to fund tours, unloading unused properties to save taxpayers billions might seem like a no-brainer.
But the federal government does not even know how many unused properties it controls because no one has kept an inventory of them. Further, attempts to sell such properties are bound in red tape.
This month, for example, the government sold a building for $19.5 million; the process took 10 years, leaving taxpayers paying for maintenance and upkeep for a decade.
“This is a problem that has been identified for years,” said Tom Shatz of Citizens Against Government Waste. “Every time someone in the White House says ‘let’s sell property,’ the red tape is simply too much for this process.”
One of the largest hurdles to expediting the sale of vacant federal buildings is a 1987 law that forces properties first to be offered to other federal agencies, then state agencies, and finally offered for use as homeless shelters before they can be sold.
“We spend about 8 billion dollars a year maintaining properties that we have no use for,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). “Now that 8 billion dollars 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 also us to unload properties.”
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) included a provision in his budget that would have streamlined the sale of federal properties, but the Ryan plan was defeated in the Senate.