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Before the House Committee on Government Reform: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 


For Release on Delivery Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT: 

Wednesday, June 22, 2005: 

Federal Real Property: 

Further Actions Needed to Address Long-standing and Complex Problems: 

Statement of David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States: 


GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-05-848T, a testimony before the House Committee on 
Government Reform: 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

In January 2003, GAO designated federal real property as a high-risk 
area due to long-standing problems with excess and underutilized 
property, deteriorating facilities, unreliable real property data, and 
costly space challenges. Federal agencies were also facing many 
challenges protecting their facilities due to the threat of terrorism. 

This testimony discusses the problems with federal real property, 
particularly those relating to excess and deteriorating property, and 
what needs to be done to address them. 

What GAO Found: 

The federal real property portfolio is vast and diverse—over 30 
agencies control hundreds of thousands of real property assets 
worldwide, including facilities and land worth hundreds of billions of 
dollars. Unfortunately, many of these assets are no longer effectively 
aligned with, or responsive to, agencies’ changing missions. Further, 
many assets are in an alarming state of deterioration; agencies have 
estimated restoration and repair needs to be in the tens of billions of 
dollars. Compounding these problems are the lack of reliable 
governmentwide data for strategic asset management, a heavy reliance on 
costly leasing, instead of ownership, to meet new needs, and the cost 
and challenge of protecting these assets against terrorism. 

In February 2004, the President added the Federal Asset Management 
Initiative to the President’s Management Agenda and signed Executive 
Order 13327. The order requires senior real property officers at 
specified executive branch departments and agencies to, among other 
things, prioritize actions needed to improve the operational and 
financial management of the agency’s real property inventory. A new 
Federal Real Property Council at OMB has developed guiding principles 
for real property asset management and is also developing performance 
measures, a real property inventory database, and an agency asset 
management planning process. In addition to these reform efforts, some 
agencies such as the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs 
(VA) have made progress in addressing long-standing federal real 
property problems. For example, DOD is preparing for a round of base 
realignment and closures in 2005. Also, in May 2004, VA announced a 
wide range of asset realignment decisions. 

These and other efforts are positive steps, but it is too early to 
judge whether the administration’s focus on this area will have a 
lasting impact. The underlying conditions and related obstacles that 
led to GAO’s high-risk designation continue to exist. Remaining 
obstacles include competing stakeholder interests in real property 
decisions, various legal and budget-related disincentives to optimal, 
businesslike, real property decisions, and the need for better capital 
planning among agencies. 

Examples of Vacant GSA, VA, and USPS Facilities: 

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

What GAO Recommends: 

Since January 2003, some important efforts to address the problems have 
been initiated by the administration and executive agencies, including 
Presidential Executive Order 13327 on real property reform. 

The executive order is clearly a positive step. However, GAO believes 
there is still a need for a comprehensive, integrated transformation 
strategy for real property to build upon the executive order. More 
specifically, the additional step of developing a transformation 
strategy would provide decisionmakers with a road map of actions for 
addressing the underlying obstacles, for assessing progress 
governmentwide, and for enhancing accountability for related actions. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
the link above. For more information, contact Mark Goldstein at (202) 
512-2834 or 

[End of section]

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee: 

We welcome the opportunity to testify on the actions that are needed to 
address the long-standing and complex problems that led to our 
designation of federal real property as a high-risk area. As you know, 
at the start of each new Congress since 1999, we have issued a special 
series of reports, entitled the Performance and Accountability Series: 
Major Management Challenges and Program Risks. In January 2003, we 
designated federal real property a high-risk area as part of this 
series, and we issued an update on this area in January 2005.[Footnote 
1] My testimony is based on our January 2003 and January 2005 high-risk 
reports and other GAO reports on real property issues. My testimony 
focuses on the problems with federal real property, particularly those 
relating to excess and deteriorating property, and what needs to be 
done to address them. 


As we reported in February 2005, the physical footprint of agencies is 
outmoded, which reflects the failure to take advantage of opportunities 
provided by new technology to modernize operations and the changing 
nature of agencies' missions.[Footnote 2] More than 30 federal agencies 
control about $328 billion in real property assets worldwide, and 
maintain a "brick and mortar" buildings and/or office presence in 11 
regions across the nation. But this organization and infrastructure 
reflects a business model and the technological and transportation 
environment of the 1950s. Many of these assets and organizational 
structures are no longer needed; others are not effectively aligned 
with, or responsive to, agencies' changing missions; and many assets 
are in an alarming state of deterioration, potentially costing 
taxpayers tens of billions of dollars to restore and repair. In 
addition, federal agencies face problems with their real property data 
and protecting their facilities due to the threat of terrorism. 

Since our designation of this area as high-risk in January 2003, some 
important efforts to address these problems have been initiated by the 
administration and executive agencies, including a Presidential 
Executive Order[Footnote 3] on real property reform and the Office of 
Management and Budget's (OMB) development of guiding principles for 
real property asset management. The executive order is clearly a 
positive step. However, it has not been fully implemented, and further 
actions are necessary to address the underlying problems and related 
obstacles, including competing stakeholder interests in real property 
decisions and legal and budget-related disincentives to optimal, 
businesslike, real property decisions. GAO continues to believe that 
there is a need for a comprehensive transformation strategy for real 
property to build upon the executive order. More specifically, the 
additional step of developing a transformation strategy would provide 
decisionmakers with a road map of actions for addressing the underlying 
obstacles, assessing progress governmentwide, and for enhancing 
accountability for related actions. 

If actions resulting from the transformation strategy and other efforts 
address the long-standing problems are effectively implemented, 
agencies will be better able to recover asset values, reduce operating 
costs, improve facility conditions, enhance security and safety, 
recruit and retain employees, and achieve mission effectiveness. 
Realigning the government's real property, taking into consideration 
the future federal role, likely organizational structure, geographic 
presence, and workplace needs, will be critical to improving the 
government's performance and ensuring accountability within expected 
resource limits. 

The Federal Real Property Environment: 

The federal real property environment has many stakeholders and 
involves a vast and diverse portfolio of assets that are used for a 
wide variety of missions. Real property is generally defined as 
facilities; land; and anything constructed on, growing on, or attached 
to land. According to its fiscal year 2003 financial statements, the 
federal government currently owns billions of dollars in real property 
assets. The Department of Defense (DOD), U.S. Postal Service (USPS), 
the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Department of 
Veterans Affairs (VA) hold the majority of the owned facility space. 

Federal real property managers operate in a complex and dynamic 
environment. Numerous laws and regulations govern the acquisition, 
management, and disposal of federal real property. The Federal Property 
and Administrative Services Act of 1949, as amended (Property Act), and 
the Public Buildings Act of 1959, as amended, are the laws that 
generally apply to real property; and GSA is responsible for the acts' 
implementation.[Footnote 4] Agencies are subject to these acts, unless 
they are specifically exempted from them, and some agencies may also 
have their own statutory authority related to real property. Agencies 
must also comply with numerous other laws related to real property. 

The Federal Government Has Many Assets it Does Not Need: 

Despite significant changes in the size and mission needs of the 
federal government in recent years, the federal portfolio of real 
property assets in many ways still largely reflects the business model 
and technological environment of the 1950s and faces serious security 
challenges. In the last decade alone, the federal government has 
reduced its workforce by several hundred thousand personnel, and 
several federal agencies have had major mission changes. With these 
personnel reductions and mission changes, the need for existing space, 
including general-purpose office space, has declined overall and 
necessitated the need for different kinds of space. At the same time, 
technological advances have changed workplace needs, and many of the 
older buildings are not configured to accommodate new technologies. The 
advent of electronic government is starting to change how the public 
interacts with the federal government. These changes will have 
significant implications for the type and location of property needed 
in the 21st century. Furthermore, changes in the overall domestic 
security environment have presented an additional range of challenges 
to real property management that must be addressed. 

One reason the government has many unneeded assets is that some of the 
major real property-holding agencies have undergone significant mission 
shifts that have affected their real property needs. For example, after 
the Cold War, DOD's force structure was reduced by 36 percent. Despite 
several rounds of base closures, DOD projects that it still has 
considerably more property than it needs. The National Defense 
Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002, gave DOD the authority for 
another round of base realignments and military installation closures 
in 2005. 

In addition, various factors may significantly reduce the need for real 
property held by USPS. These factors include new technologies, 
additional delivery options, and the opportunity for greater use of 
partnerships and retail co-location arrangements. A July 2003 
Presidential Commission report on USPS stated, among other things, that 
USPS had vacant and underutilized facilities that had little, if any, 
value to the modern-day delivery of the nation's mail.[Footnote 5] In 
April 2005 we reported that USPS faces future financial challenges due 
to its declining First-Class Mail volume and has excess capacity in its 
current infrastructure that impedes efficiency gains.[Footnote 6] USPS 
has stated that one way to increase efficiency is to realign its 
processing and distribution infrastructure. 

In the mid-1990s, VA began shifting its role from being a traditional 
hospital-based provider of medical services to an integrated delivery 
system that emphasizes a full continuum of care with a significant 
shift from inpatient to outpatient services. Subsequently, VA has 
struggled to reduce its large inventory of buildings, many of which are 
underutilized or vacant. 

The magnitude of the problem with underutilized or excess federal 
property puts the government at significant risk for wasting taxpayers' 
money and missed opportunities. First, underutilized or excess property 
is costly to maintain. DOD estimates that it is spending $3 billion to 
$4 billion each year maintaining facilities that are not needed. It is 
likely that other agencies that continue to hold excess or 
underutilized property are also incurring significant costs for staff 
time spent managing the properties and on maintenance, utilities, 
security, and other building needs. Second, in addition to day-to-day 
operational costs, holding these properties has opportunity costs for 
the government, because these buildings and land could be put to more 
cost-beneficial uses, exchanged for other needed property, or sold to 
generate revenue for the government. Finally, continuing to hold 
property that is unneeded does not present a positive image of the 
federal government in local communities. Instead, it presents an image 
of waste and inefficiency that erodes taxpayers' confidence in 
government. It also can have a negative impact on local economies if 
the property is occupying a valuable location and is not used for other 
purposes, sold, redeveloped, or used in a public-private partnership. 

The Federal Portfolio Is in an Alarming State of Deterioration: 

Restoration, repair, and maintenance backlogs in federal facilities are 
significant and reflect the federal government's ineffective 
stewardship over its valuable and historic portfolio of real property 
assets. The state of deterioration is alarming because of the magnitude 
of the repair backlog--current estimates show that tens of billions of 
dollars will be needed to restore these assets and make them fully 
functional. This problem has accelerated in recent years because much 
of the federal portfolio was constructed over 50 years ago, and these 
assets are reaching the end of their useful lives. As with the problems 
related to underutilized or excess property, the challenges of 
addressing facility deterioration are also prevalent at major real 
property-holding agencies. In recent discussions, a GSA official said 
that its $5.7 billion backlog, which we reported in 2003, has grown to 
between $6 and $7 billion.[Footnote 7] In recognition of the importance 
of addressing deferred maintenance, federal accounting standards 
require agencies to report deferred maintenance as supplementary 
information in their financial statements. As of September 30, 2004, 
the government's consolidated financial statements showed a deferred 
maintenance cost range of $13.4 billion to $25.3 billion for the asset 
category General Property, Plant, and Equipment--which includes federal 
real property. 

Over the last decade, DOD reports that it has been faced with the major 
challenge of adequately maintaining its facilities to meet its mission 
requirements. In February 2003, we reported that although the amount of 
money the active forces have spent on facility maintenance had 
increased recently, DOD and service officials said that these amounts 
had not been sufficient to halt the deterioration of 
facilities.[Footnote 8] Too little funding to adequately maintain 
facilities is also aggravated by DOD's acknowledged retention of 
facilities in excess of its needs. 

Our work over the years has shown that the deterioration problem leads 
to increased operational costs, has health and safety implications that 
are worrisome, and can compromise agency missions. In addition, we have 
reported that the ultimate cost of completing delayed repairs and 
alterations may escalate because of inflation and increases in the 
severity of the problems caused by the delays.[Footnote 9] As discussed 
above, the overall cost could also be reduced by government 
realignment. That is, to the extent that unneeded property is also in 
need of repair, disposing of such property could reduce the repair 
backlog. Another negative effect, which is not readily apparent but 
nonetheless significant, is the effect that deteriorating facilities 
have on employee recruitment, retention, and productivity. This human 
capital element is troublesome because the government is often at a 
disadvantage in its ability to compete in the job market in terms of 
the salaries agencies are able to offer. Poor physical work 
environments exacerbate this problem and can have a negative impact on 
potential employees' decisions to take federal positions. Furthermore, 
research has shown that quality work environments make employees more 
productive and improve morale. Finally, as with excess or underutilized 
property, deteriorated property presents a negative image of the 
federal government to the public. This is particularly true when many 
of the assets the public uses and visits the most--such as those at 
national parks and museums--are not well maintained or in generally 
poor condition. 

Other Long-standing Problems Continue to Exist: 

As we reported in October 2003, in addition to the difficulties with 
excess and deteriorated property, the federal government faces other 
long-standing real property-related problems.[Footnote 10] For example, 
there is a lack of reliable and useful real property data that are 
needed for strategic decision-making. In April 2002, we reported that 
the government's only central source of descriptive data on the makeup 
of the real property inventory, GSA's worldwide inventory database and 
related real property reports, contained data that were unreliable and 
of limited usefulness.[Footnote 11] GSA agreed with our findings and 
has revamped this database and produced a new report on the federal 
inventory; we have not evaluated GSA's revamped database and related 
report. In addition to the problems with the worldwide inventory, in 
February 2005, we reported that as in the 7 previous fiscal years, 
certain material weaknesses[Footnote 12] in internal control and in 
selected accounting and financial reporting practices resulted in 
conditions that continued to prevent us from being able to provide an 
opinion as to whether the consolidated financial statements of the U.S. 
government were fairly stated in conformity with U.S. generally 
accepted accounting principles.[Footnote 13] We have reported that 
because the government lacked complete and reliable information to 
support asset holdings--including real property--it could not 
satisfactorily determine that all assets were included in the financial 
statements, verify that certain reported assets actually existed, or 
substantiate the amounts at which they were valued. 

In addition to problems with unreliable real property data, the 
government continues to rely on costly leasing for much of its space 
needs. As a general rule, building ownership options through 
construction or purchase are the least expensive ways to meet agencies' 
long-term and recurring requirements for space. Lease-purchase--under 
which payments are spread over time and ownership of the asset is 
eventually transferred to the government--are generally less costly 
than using ordinary operating leases to meet long-term space 
needs.[Footnote 14] However, over the last decade, we have reported 
that GSA--as the central leasing agent for most agencies--relies 
heavily on operating leases to meet new long-term needs because it 
lacks funds to pursue ownership. Operating leases have become an 
attractive option in part because they generally look cheaper in any 
given year, even though they are generally more costly over time. 
Budget scorekeeping rules allow these costly operating leases to look 
cheaper in the short term and have encouraged an overreliance on them 
for satisfying long-term space needs. Finding a solution for this 
problem has been difficult; however, change is needed because the 
current practice of relying on costly leasing to meet long-term space 
needs results in excessive costs to taxpayers and does not reflect a 
sensible or economically rational approach to capital asset management. 

Federal agencies also face challenges in protecting their facilities 
due to the threat of terrorism. Terrorism is a major threat to 
federally owned and leased real property, the civil servants and 
military personnel who work in them, and the public who visits them. 
This was evidenced by the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing; the 1998 embassy 
bombings in Africa; the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade 
Center and Pentagon; and the anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001. Since 
the 2001 attacks, the focus on security in federal buildings has been 
heightened considerably. Real property-holding agencies are employing 
such measures as searching vehicles that enter federal facilities, 
restricting parking, and installing concrete bollards. As the 
government's security efforts intensify, the government will be faced 
with important questions regarding the level of security needed to 
adequately protect federal facilities and how the security community 
should proceed. 

Various Efforts Initiated, but Real Property Problems Persist Due to 
Factors that Require Attention: 

In February 2004, the President added the Federal Asset Management 
Initiative to the President's Management Agenda and signed Executive 
Order 13327 to address challenges in this area. The order requires 
senior real property officers at specified executive branch departments 
and agencies[Footnote 15] to, among other things, develop and implement 
an agency asset management plan; identify and categorize all real 
property owned, leased, or otherwise managed by the agency; prioritize 
actions needed to improve the operational and financial management of 
the agency's real property inventory; and make life-cycle cost 
estimations associated with the prioritized actions. In addition, the 
senior real property officers are responsible, on an ongoing basis, for 
monitoring the real property assets of the agency. The order also 
established a new Federal Real Property Council (the Council) at OMB. 

In April 2005, OMB officials updated us on the status of the 
implementation of the executive order. According to these officials, 
all of the senior real property officers are in place, and the Council 
has been working to identify common data elements and performance 
measures to be captured by agencies and ultimately reported to a 
governmentwide database. In addition, OMB officials reported that 
agencies are working on their asset management plans. Plans for the 
DOD, VA, Energy, and GSA have been completed and approved by OMB. The 
Council has also developed guiding principles for real property asset 
management. These guiding principles state that real property asset 
management must, among other things, support agency missions and 
strategic goals, use public and commercial benchmarks and best 
practices, employ life-cycle cost-benefit analysis, promote full and 
appropriate utilization, and dispose of unneeded assets. 

In addition to these reform efforts, Public Law 108-447 gave GSA the 
authority to retain the net proceeds from the disposal of federal 
property for fiscal year 2005 and to use such proceeds for GSA's real 
property capital needs. Also, Public Law 108-422 established a capital 
asset fund and gave VA the authority to retain the proceeds from the 
disposal of its real property for the use of certain capital asset 
needs such as demolition, environmental clean-up, repairs, and 
maintenance to the extent specified in appropriations acts. And, 
agencies such as DOD and VA have made progress in addressing long- 
standing federal real property problems and governmentwide efforts in 
the facility protection area are progressing. For example: 

* VA has established a process called Capital Asset Realignment for 
Enhanced Services (CARES) to address its aging and obsolete portfolio 
of health care facilities. In March 2005, we reported that through 
CARES, VA identified 136 locations for evaluation of alternative ways 
to align inpatient services--99 facilities had potential duplication of 
services with another nearby facility or low acute patient 
workload.[Footnote 16] VA made decisions to realign inpatient health 
care services at 30 of these locations. For example, it will close all 
inpatient services at 5 facilities. VA's decisions on inpatient 
alignment and plans for further study of its capital asset needs are 
tangible steps in improving management of its capital assets and 
enhancing health care. Accomplishing its goals, however, will depend on 
VA's success in completing its evaluations and implementing its CARES 
decisions to ensure that resources now spent on unneeded capital assets 
are redirected to health care. 

* In DOD's support infrastructure management area, which we identified 
as high-risk in 1997, DOD has made progress and expects to continue 
making improvements. In May 2005, we testified that DOD implemented the 
recommendations from the previous BRAC rounds within the 6-year period 
mandated by law.[Footnote 17] As a result, DOD estimated that it 
reduced its domestic infrastructure by about 20 percent, as measured by 
the cost to replace the property; about 90 percent of unneeded BRAC 
property is now available for reuse. Substantial net savings of 
approximately $29 billion have been realized over time. DOD's 
expectations for the 2005 BRAC round include further eliminating 
unneeded infrastructure and achieving savings. It also expects to use 
BRAC to further transformation and related efforts such as restationing 
of troops from overseas as well as efforts to further joint basing 
among the military services. The results of the 2005 BRAC round will be 
known later this year, once the legislatively mandated Defense Base 
Closure and Realignment Commission completes its work and its 
recommendations are considered by the President and the Congress. 

* In light of the need to invest in facility protection since September 
11, 2001, funding available for repair and restoration and preparing 
excess property for disposal may be further constrained. The 
Interagency Security Committee (ISC), which is chaired by the 
Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is tasked with coordinating 
federal agencies' facility protection efforts, developing standards, 
and overseeing implementation. In November 2004, we reported that ISC 
had made progress in coordinating the government's facility protection 
efforts by, for example, developing security standards for leased space 
and design criteria for security in new construction projects. Despite 
this progress, we found that its actions to ensure compliance with 
security standards and oversee implementation have been limited. 
Nonetheless, the ISC serves as a forum for addressing security issues, 
which can have an impact on agencies' efforts to improve real property 

The inclusion of real property asset management on the President's 
Management Agenda, the executive order, and agencies' actions are 
clearly positive steps in an area that had been neglected for many 
years. However, despite the increased focus on real property issues in 
recent years, the underlying conditions--such as excess and 
deteriorating properties and costly leasing--continue to exist and more 
needs to be done to address various obstacles that led to our high risk 
designation. For example, the problems have been exacerbated by 
competing stakeholder interests in real property decisions, various 
legal and budget related disincentives to businesslike outcomes, and 
the need for better capital planning among real property-holding 

More specifically: 

* Competing Stakeholder Interests - In addition to Congress, OMB, and 
the real property-holding agencies themselves, several other 
stakeholders also have an interest in how the federal government 
carries out its real property acquisition, management, and disposal 
practices. These include foreign and local governments; business 
interests in the communities where the assets are located; private 
sector construction and leasing firms; historic preservation 
organizations; various advocacy groups; and the public in general, 
which often views the facilities as the physical face of the federal 
government in local communities. As a result of competing stakeholder 
interests, decisions about real property often do not reflect the most 
cost-effective or efficient alternative that is in the interests of the 
agency or the government as a whole but instead reflect other 

* Legal and Budgetary Disincentives -The complex legal and budgetary 
environment in which real property managers operate has a significant 
impact on real property decisionmaking and often does not lead to 
economically rational and businesslike outcomes. For example, we have 
reported that public-private partnerships might be a viable option for 
redeveloping obsolete federal property when they provide the best 
economic value for the government, compared with other options, such as 
federal financing through appropriations or sale of the property. 
Resource limitations, in general, often prevent agencies from 
addressing real property needs from a strategic portfolio perspective. 
When available funds for capital investment are limited, Congress 
should weigh the need for new, modern facilities with the need for 
renovation, maintenance, and disposal of existing facilities, the 
latter of which often gets deferred. In the disposal area, a range of 
laws intended to address other objectives--such as laws related to 
historic preservation and environmental remediation--makes it 
challenging for agencies to dispose of unneeded property. 

* Need for Improved Capital Planning - Over the years, we have reported 
that prudent capital planning can help agencies to make the most of 
limited resources, and failure to make timely and effective capital 
acquisitions can result in increased long-term costs. GAO, Congress, 
and OMB have identified the need to improve federal decisionmaking 
regarding capital investment. Our Executive Guide,[Footnote 18] OMB's 
Capital Programming Guide, and its revisions to Circular A-11 have 
attempted to provide guidance to agencies for making capital investment 
decisions. However, agencies are not required to use the guidance. 
Furthermore, agencies have not always developed overall goals and 
strategies for implementing capital investment decisions, nor has the 
federal government generally planned or budgeted for capital assets 
over the long term. 

As you know, GSA is required by law to charge agencies for renting 
space in federal office buildings, courthouses, and other assets GSA 
owns. The rental receipts are deposited into the Federal Buildings Fund 
(FBF), a revolving fund used to fund GSA real property services, 
including space acquisition and asset management for federal facilities 
that are under GSA's control. Over the years, there have been various 
efforts to restrict or exempt agencies from paying rent to GSA for some 
or all of their space. This, however, can have a negative impact on the 
government's ability to "re-invest" in its portfolio. Currently, the 
federal judiciary is seeking such an exemption. This is a very 
important issue, since it would serve to provide a precedent with 
significant governmentwide implications. 

More specifically, GSA has historically been unable to generate 
sufficient revenue through FBF and has thus struggled to meet the 
requirements for repairs and alterations identified in its inventory of 
owned buildings. We reported in 2003 that the estimated backlog of 
repairs had reached $5.7 billion, and consequences included poor health 
and safety conditions, higher operating costs, restricted capacity for 
modern information technology, and continued structural deterioration. 
Restrictions imposed on the rent GSA could charge federal agencies have 
compounded the agency's inability to address its backlog in the past. 
Consequently, we recommended in 1989 that Congress remove all rent 
restrictions and not mandate any further restrictions, and most rent 
restrictions have been lifted. The GSA Administrator has the authority 
to grant rent exemptions, and all of the current exemptions are limited 
to single buildings or were granted for a limited duration. Together, 
these current exemptions represent about $170 million, a third of the 
$483 million permanent exemption the judiciary is requesting from GSA. 
The judiciary has requested the exemption, equal to about half of its 
annual rent payment, because of budget problems that it believes its 
growing rent payments have caused. GSA data show that one reason the 
judiciary's rent is increasing is that the space it occupies is also 
increasing. We are currently studying the potential impact of such an 
exemption on FBF, however our past work shows that rent exemptions were 
a principal reason why FBF has accumulated insufficient money for 
capital investment. 

A Transformation Strategy Is Needed: 

The magnitude of real property-related problems and the complexity of 
the underlying factors that cause them to persist put the federal 
government at significant risk in this area. Real property problems 
related to unneeded property and the need for realignment, 
deteriorating conditions, unreliable data, costly space, and security 
concerns have multibillion-dollar cost implications and can seriously 
jeopardize mission accomplishment. Because of the breadth and 
complexity of the issues involved, the long-standing nature of the 
problems, and the intense debate about potential solutions that will 
likely ensue, current structures and processes may not be adequate to 
address the problems. In addition, a governmentwide perspective 
regarding the extent of excess or underutilized space, deferred 
maintenance, and the costs of real property would improve transparency. 
That is, all stakeholders would know the condition of the problem and 
overall, the government could better manage its real property. Given 
this, we concluded in our high-risk report and in our update in January 
2005, and still believe that a comprehensive and integrated 
transformation strategy for federal real property is needed. Such a 
strategy could build upon the executive order by providing 
decisionmakers with a road map of actions for addressing the underlying 
obstacles, assessing progress governmentwide, and for enhancing 
accountability for related actions. Based on input from agencies, the 
private sector, and other interested groups, the strategy could 
comprehensively address these long-standing problems with specific 
proposals on how best to: 

* realign the federal infrastructure and dispose of unneeded property, 
taking into account mission requirements, changes in technology, 
security needs, costs, and how the government conducts business in the 
21st century;

* address the significant repair and restoration needs of the federal: 


* ensure that reliable governmentwide and agency-specific real property 
data--both financial and program related--are available for informed 

* resolve the problem of heavy reliance on costly leasing; and: 

* consider the impact that the threat of terrorism will have on real 
property needs and challenges, including how to balance public access 
with safety. 

To be effective in addressing these problems, it would be important for 
the strategy to focus on: 

* minimizing the negative effects associated with competing stakeholder 
interests in real property decisionmaking;

* providing agencies with appropriate tools and incentives that will 
facilitate businesslike decisions--for example, consideration should be 
given to what financing options should be available; whether agencies 
should keep some of the disposal proceeds to recoup the costs of 
preparing properties for disposal; what process would permit 
comparisons between rehabilitation/renovation and replacement and among 
construction, purchase, lease-purchase, and operating lease; and how 
public-private partnerships should be evaluated;

* addressing federal human capital issues related to real property by 
recognizing that real property conditions affect the federal 
government's ability to attract and retain high-performing individuals 
and the productivity and morale of employees;

* improving real property capital planning in the federal government by 
helping agencies to better integrate agency mission considerations into 
the capital decision-making process, make businesslike decisions when 
evaluating and selecting capital assets, evaluate and select capital 
assets by using an investment approach, evaluate results on an ongoing 
basis, and develop long-term capital plans; and: 

* ensuring credible, rational, long-term budget planning for facility 
sustainment, modernization, or recapitalization. 

The transformation strategy should also reflect the lessons learned and 
leading practices of organizations in the public and private sectors 
that have attempted to reform their real property practices. Over the 
past decade, leading organizations in both the public and private 
sectors have been recognizing the impact that real property decisions 
have on their overall success. For example, we at GAO are currently 
leasing space to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to better utilize our 
space, generate revenue, and reduce the Corps' need to lease space from 
the private sector. The revenue we receive provides us with an 
incentive to efficiently manage our space. Better managing real 
property assets in the current environment calls for a significant 
departure from the traditional way of doing business. Solutions should 
not only correct the long-standing problems we have identified but also 
be responsive to and supportive of agencies' changing missions, 
security concerns, and technological needs in the 21st century. If 
actions resulting from the transformation strategy comprehensively 
address the problems and are effectively implemented, agencies will be 
better positioned to recover asset values, reduce operating costs, 
improve facility conditions, enhance safety and security, recruit and 
retain employees, and achieve mission effectiveness. 

In addition to developing a transformation strategy, it is critical 
that all the key stakeholders in government--Congress, OMB, and real 
property-holding agencies--continue to work diligently on the efforts 
planned and already under way that are intended to promote better real 
property capital decisionmaking, such as enacting reform legislation, 
assessing infrastructure and human capital needs, and examining viable 
funding options. Congress and the administration could continue to work 
together to develop and enact additional reform legislation to give 
real property-holding agencies the tools they need to achieve better 
outcomes, foster a more businesslike real property environment, and 
provide for greater accountability for real property stewardship. These 
tools could include, where appropriate, the ability to retain a portion 
of the proceeds from disposal and the use of public-private 
partnerships in cases where they represent the best economic value to 
the government. Congress and the administration could also elevate the 
importance of real property in policy debates and recognize the impact 
that real property decisions have on agencies' missions. 

Regarding this Committee's draft legislation known as the "Federal Real 
Property Disposal Pilot Program and Management Improvement Act of 
2005," we believe that the objectives of the legislation and several of 
its provisions have strong conceptual merit. For example, it would 
establish a pilot program for the expedited disposal of excess, 
surplus, or underutilized real property assets identified and would 
enact many of the requirements of Executive Order 13227 into law. In 
particular, pursuing this pilot program, as outlined in Title I, would 
allow for assessing lessons learned and help determine the merits of 
the program and whether it should continue. Furthermore, making the 
requirements of the executive order law, as outlined in Title II, would 
serve to elevate their importance and show that Congress and the 
administration are unified in pursuing real property reform. We would 
respectfully suggest that the Committee give consideration to including 
a requirement that a transformation strategy for federal real property 
be developed, as we have recommended. 

Solving the problems in this area will undeniably require a 
reconsideration of funding priorities at a time when budget constraints 
will be pervasive. Without effective incentives and tools; top 
management accountability, leadership, and commitment; adequate 
funding; full transparency with regard to the government's real 
property activities; and an effective system to measure results, long- 
standing real property problems will continue and likely worsen. 
However, the overall risk to the government and taxpayers could be 
substantially reduced if an effective transformation strategy is 
developed and successfully implemented, reforms are made, and property- 
holding agencies effectively implement current and planned initiatives. 
Since our high-risk report was issued, OMB has informed us that it is 
taking steps to address the federal government's problems in the real 
property area. Specifically, it has established a new Federal Real 
Property Council to address these long-standing issues. To assist OMB 
with its efforts, we have agreed to meet regularly to discuss progress 
and have provided OMB with specific suggestions on the types of actions 
and results that could be helpful in justifying the removal of real 
property from the high-risk list. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be happy to 
respond to any questions you or other Members of the Committee may have 
at this time. 

Contacts and Acknowledgements: 

For further information on this testimony, please contact Mark 
Goldstein on (202) 512-2834 or at Key contributions 
to this testimony were made by Christine Bonham, Daniel Hoy, Anne Izod, 
Susan Michal-Smith, and David Sausville. 


[1] GAO, High-Risk Series: Federal Real Property, GAO-03-122 
(Washington, D.C.; Jan. 2003); the report on real property is a 
companion to GAO's 2003 high-risk update, GAO, High-Risk Series: An 
Update, GAO-03-119 (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 2003); and GAO, High-Risk 
Series: An Update, GAO-05-207 (Washington, D.C.; Jan. 2005); these 
reports are intended to help the new Congress focus its attention on 
the most important issues and challenges facing the federal government. 

[2] GAO, 21st Century Challenges: Reexamining the Base of the Federal 
Government, GAO-05-352T (Washington, D.C.; Feb. 16, 2005). 

[3] Presidential Executive Order 13327, Feb. 6, 2004. 

[4] For the Property Act, see 40 U.S.C. § 101 et. seq.; the Property 
Act excludes certain types of property, such as public domain assets 
and land reserved or dedicated for national forest or national park 
purposes; for the Public Buildings Act, see 40 U.S.C. § 3301 et. seq. 

[5] President's Commission on the United States Postal Service, 
Embracing the Future: Making the Tough Choices to Preserve Universal 
Mail Service (Washington, D.C.: July 31, 2003). 

[6] GAO, U.S. Postal Service: The Service's Strategy for Realigning Its 
Mail Processing Infrastructure Lacks Clarity, Criteria, and 
Accountability, GAO-05-261 (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 8, 2005). 

[7] GAO-03-122. 

[8] GAO, Defense Infrastructure: Changes in Funding Priorities and 
Strategic Planning Needed to Improve the Condition of Military 
Facilities, GAO-03-274 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 19, 2003). 

[9] GAO, Federal Buildings: Funding Repairs and Alterations Has Been a 
Challenge--Expanded Financing Tools Needed, GAO-01-452 (Washington, 
D.C.; Mar. 20, 2001). 

[10] GAO, Federal Real Property: Actions Needed to Address Long-
standing and Complex Problems, GAO-04-119T (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 1, 

[11] GAO, Federal Real Property: Better Governmentwide Data Needed for 
Strategic Decisonmaking, GAO-02-342 (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 16, 2002). 

[12] A material weakness is a condition that precludes the entity's 
internal control from providing reasonable assurance that 
misstatements, losses, or noncompliance material in relation to the 
financial statements or to stewardship information would be prevented 
or detected on a timely basis. 

[13] GAO, Fiscal Year 2004 U.S. Government Financial Statements: 
Sustained Improvement in Federal Financial Management Is Crucial to 
Addressing Our Nation's Future Fiscal Challenge, GAO-05-284T 
(Washington, D.C.: Feb 9, 2005). 

[14] In an operating lease, the government makes periodic lease 
payments over the specified length of the lease in exchange for the use 
of the property. 

[15] See 31 U.S.C. § 901(b) (1) and (b) (2) for a list of the executive 
branch departments and agencies required to establish a senior real 
property officer. 

[16] GAO, VA Health Care: Important Steps Taken to Enhance Veterans' 
Care By Aligning Inpatient Services with Projected Needs, GAO-05-160 
(Washington, D.C.: Mar. 2, 2005). 

[17] GAO, Military Base Closures: Observations on Prior and Current 
BRAC Rounds, GAO-05-614 (Washington, D.C.: May 3, 2005). 

[18] GAO, Executive Guide: Leading Practices in Capital Decision- 
making, GAO/AIMD-99-32 (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 1998).