The government doesn't know how many empty buildings it owns -- just that they're costing us billions

Ugghhh. Via The Hill:

President Obama on Thursday urged Congress to “do even more” on conservation projects after signing legislation protecting a 35-mile stretch of Lake Michigan’s coastline.

“There are currently dozens of conservation proposals before Congress — many supported by Democrats and Republicans — that would protect important lands across the country and help grow our economy,” Obama said in a statement.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes conservation law was the first public lands designation by Congress in more than five years — the longest lawmakers had gone without making a wilderness designation in nearly 50 years.

While urging lawmakers to take up additional conservation measures, Obama pledged to “continue to do my part to protect our federal lands for future generations to enjoy.”


I’m sorry, but simply implying that adding more land to the one-third of the surface area the United States government already owns is not quite the same thing as the president doing his “part to protect our federal lands for future generations to enjoy” and simultaneously “growing the economy.” If Obama really wanted to ensure the best possible environmental and economic stewardship of those precious lands, he might start considering opening them up for public-private management setups or leasing them for other commercial uses that could actually turn their own profits — instead of subjecting them to clunky, political, top-down policy decisions and turning them into a further strain on our deferred maintenance backlog.

In that same vein, the many empty and abandoned buildings currently beefing up the federal estate are a major drain on taxpayer resources, but the bureaucracy is gummed up with rules and regulations that directly deny the properties from being put to productive uses. Via NPR:

Government estimates suggest there may be 77,000 empty or underutilized buildings across the country. Taxpayers own them, and even vacant, they’re expensive. The Office of Management and Budget says these buildings could be costing taxpayers $1.7 billion a year. …

Wise and his colleagues have been using the only known centralized database that the government has, the Federal Property Profile, and it’s not reliable, he says. …

But Carper says that even when an agency knows it has a building it would like to sell, bureaucratic hurdles limit what it can do. No federal agency can sell anything unless it’s uncontaminated, asbestos-free and environmentally safe. Those are expensive fixes.

Then the agency has to make sure another one doesn’t want it. Then state and local governments get a crack at it, then nonprofits — and finally, a 25-year-old law requires the government to see whether it could be used as a homeless shelter.


Which means that federal agencies usually end up giving up and just locking the gates on these blighted opportunity costs. Instead of focusing on placing still more lands and properties under federal control, perhaps the government should be a little more focused on getting rid of some of them.

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