Federal Real Property:

Most Public Benefit Conveyances Used as Intended, but Opportunities Exist to Enhance Federal Oversight

GAO-06-511: Published: Jun 21, 2006. Publicly Released: Jul 21, 2006.

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Under the public benefit conveyance (PBC) program, state or local governments and certain nonprofits can obtain surplus real property for public uses. The General Services Administration (GSA) has responsibility for the program but has delegated authority to the Department of Defense (DOD) for properties disposed of as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. Several "sponsoring agencies" ensure that properties are used as agreed to by grantees. GAO (1) determined the number, types, and locations of PBC properties disposed of in fiscal years 2000 through 2004, (2) assessed efforts to ensure that the properties are used as agreed to, and (3) identified any challenges facing agencies and grantees.

GAO could not determine from GSA, DOD, and sponsoring agency data the exact number, types, and locations of properties conveyed in fiscal years 2000 through 2004 as part of the PBC program. Although GSA and DOD data on properties conveyed should have matched sponsoring agency data on properties being monitored, there were numerous inconsistencies. GSA data showed that 285 properties were conveyed, but 128 (45 percent) of these properties were not identified in data provided by sponsoring agencies. Similarly, DOD data showed that 179 properties were conveyed, yet 41 (23 percent) of these properties were not identified in sponsoring agency data. As a result, GSA, as well as the Office of Management and Budget and Congress, are not well equipped to effectively oversee the program. Better data would facilitate oversight and assessment of results and possible problems. GAO tried to resolve the inconsistencies and identified 298 properties that were conveyed for a variety of public uses, such as airports and parks. They were located throughout many states and U.S. territories. GAO noted that data on reverted property were not regularly collected. GAO found that agencies generally did not follow policies and procedures they established, or those outlined in the property deeds, for ensuring that conveyed properties are used as intended. GAO could evaluate compliance monitoring for 41 of 58 properties selected for review. Of these, 36 did not receive the compliance monitoring specified in agency policies and procedures or the deed. Despite this, 51 of the 58 properties we analyzed were being used as agreed to by the grantee under the conveyance terms; while 4 had reverted back to the federal government, 2 had not been fully developed, and 1 was not used as agreed to by the grantee. GAO also found wide variation in agency policies and practices, depending on type of use, which seems to make the program unnecessarily complex. GAO identified several challenges faced by agencies and grantees. Agency officials cited the need to allocate sufficient resources to manage the program and to adhere to complex federal real property-related laws as challenges. Some agencies were concerned that GSA avoids reversions; however GSA said that in avoiding reversions, its intentions are to reduce the government's overall financial burden. Grantees were generally pleased with the program, although a common challenge they cited was not having adequate information on both the program in general and individual properties.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GSA reports coordinating with DOD and the sponsoring agencies in the development of its new inventory and case tracking system, RediNet. The RediNet system will include PBC sponsoring agency reports and data, and is scheduled to be deployed in September of 2007. In addition, the recommendation was addressed in substantive discussions held at the 28-29 March 2007 Sponsoring Agency Roundtable Meeting. The meeting minutes report a consensus decision where 1) sponsoring agencies have primary responsibility for maintaining updated grantee information; 2) GSA will provide information from Net Real and RediNet to sponsoring agencies for data sharing, inventory and information accuracy verification.

    Recommendation: Because GSA is the federal agency with primary responsibilities for the PBC program under the Property Act, the Administrator of GSA should coordinate with DOD and each of the sponsoring agencies to ensure that PBC property data are reliable and consistent between agencies for the purposes of effective management, oversight, and accountability. These data should include, at a minimum, a unique identifying code or name and pertinent data related to each property such as location, type, sponsoring agency, grantee, reversion status, if applicable, the property's compliance history, and other relevant information, as appropriate. This effort to improve the data could be accomplished as part of, or in conjunction with, the federal real property profile initiative already underway.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: HUD has not provided information on whether this recommendation has been implemented.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of GSA, and the Secretaries of Education, the Interior, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation should take actions they deem appropriate to better ensure that their agencies' current compliance monitoring policies are followed.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HHS provided a description of steps the department has taken to implement this recommendation. On the basis of this information, GAO considers this recommendation to be closed and implemented.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of GSA, and the Secretaries of Education, the Interior, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation should take actions they deem appropriate to better ensure that their agencies' current compliance monitoring policies are followed.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2006, we found that the 8 executive departments responsible for sponsoring the 12 types of public benefit conveyances (PBC) of surplus federal property did not always ensure that their compliance monitoring policies were followed. Staff responsible for administering the PBC program at several of the agencies with large PBC portfolios cited limited staffing and budgetary resources as the reasons behind their reported difficulties in performing compliance monitoring. Despite inconsistent compliance monitoring by the responsible agencies, we found that most of the properties we reviewed--including those managed by the Department of Education--were being used as agreed to by the grantee. Nonetheless, we noted that inconsistent execution of compliance monitoring activities specified in agencies' policies was a concern because PBC properties could be vulnerable to being used for purpose other than those agreed to by the grantee. We recommended that the Secretary of Education, among others, take actions deemed appropriate to better ensure that its current compliance monitoring policies are followed. In response, the Department reported that it had obtained additional support in September 2007 for its Federal Real Property Assistance office (the Department's office responsible for managing PBC properties) when two contract staff were hired. In addition two more FTEs were allocated to the office in April 2008. Further, the Department's management has committed adequate travel funds to make the necessary on-site compliance enforcement inspections in 2010. As a result, according to the Department, its Federal Real Property Assistance office currently has the staff and funding to effectively carry out its compliance monitoring responsibilities for its PBC portfolio.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of GSA, and the Secretaries of Education, the Interior, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation should take actions they deem appropriate to better ensure that their agencies' current compliance monitoring policies are followed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2006, we found that the 8 executive departments responsible for sponsoring the 12 types of public benefit conveyances (PBC) of surplus federal property did not always ensure that their compliance monitoring policies were followed. Staff responsible for administering the PBC program at several of the agencies with large PBC portfolios cited limited staffing and budgetary resources as the reasons behind their reported difficulties in performing compliance monitoring. Despite inconsistent compliance monitoring by the responsible agencies, we found that most of the properties we reviewed--including those subject to the Maritime Administration (MARAD), a component within the Department of Transportation (DOT) that sponsors PBCs--were being used as agreed to by the grantee. Nonetheless, we noted that inconsistent execution of compliance monitoring activities specified in agencies' policies was a concern because PBC properties could be vulnerable to being used for purpose other than those agreed to by the grantee. We recommended that the Secretary of Transportation, among others, take actions deemed appropriate to better ensure that its current compliance monitoring policies are followed. In 2010, DOT reported that MARAD has focused on improved record keeping for the public benefit conveyances it monitors by creating an electronic database that incorporates the records of legacy public benefit conveyances in addition to current and future conveyances. Further, DOT reported that MARAD took steps to enhance compliance monitoring and its written guidance, as well as created a website to enhance communication with stakeholders and other interested parties. As a result, MARAD has taken steps to improve its compliance monitoring and reduce PBC properties vulnerability to improper use.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of GSA, and the Secretaries of Education, the Interior, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation should take actions they deem appropriate to better ensure that their agencies' current compliance monitoring policies are followed.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GSA reports discussing the recommendation with sponsoring agencies during the Sponsoring Agency Roundtable discussion held 28-29 March 2007. Meeting minutes demonstrate that substantive discussions were held that identified problems (limited resources, seasonal inspection window, non-cooperative grantees). The resulting consensus decision proposed a possible legislative solution in which funding for compliance monitoring would be drawn from abrogation proceeds and the possibility of compliance monitoring assistance from GSA.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of GSA, and the Secretaries of Education, the Interior, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation should take actions they deem appropriate to better ensure that their agencies' current compliance monitoring policies are followed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The efforts described by Interior's Historic Surplus Property Program (HSPP) and Federal Lands to Parks Program (FLPP) warrant closing this recommendation because they indicate that Interior agrees with the spirit of the recommendation and has taken actions deemed appropriate. HSPP reports that despite Assistant Secretary Thomas Weimer's comments to GAO on 20 June 2006 stating DOI would readily work with GSA and DOD in any efforts to improve the program including compliance monitoring, it continues to be unable to undertake site visits in accordance with the 1983 NPS "Surplus Property Compliance Policy." HSPP attributes this condition to the fact that NPS receives no funding for the HSPP program which means that other financial and human resources must be tapped to carry out the program's mission. HSPP reported that there are currently fewer than 2 FTEs allocated to the HSPP nationwide. Further HSPP reports that, to date, it is unaware of any actions to address the modification of the compliance-monitoring policies for its program but stands ready to participate in such an endeavor. NPS met individually with GSA and participated in the Sponsoring Agency Roundtable in February and March 2007 to discuss GAO recommendations and identify solutions and improvements to program and data management. In addition, NPS FLP program has taken steps to improve communication about the program and improve its oversight. This involved two efforts: 1) provided input to the NPS web site Redesign Team aimed at improving the information about the FLP PBC program and public access of relevant information; 2) The NPS FLP has completed a new guidance document and template for property recipients wishing to enter into concession agreements to help develop and operate park programs and services. The NPS also noted, however, that competing agency and federal needs and priorities continue to take precedence over FLP program needs. Nonetheless, the FLP program has taken steps to update compliance data from one of its three regional offices in its national data base.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of GSA, and the Secretaries of Education, the Interior, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation should take actions they deem appropriate to better ensure that their agencies' current compliance monitoring policies are followed.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GSA reported substantive discussions of this recommendation at the Sponsoring Agency Roundtable discussion held 28-29 March 2007. Meeting minutes included a consensus statement that said, given the wide variation in PBC use types, uniform standards in the implementation, administration and management of the program [currently] exist to the extent that is practical: i.e., steps involved in conveying properties for PBC follow a consistent path, time frames for screening notices requiring letter of interest are consistent across the various PBC use types, as are also submittal of applications and post-conveyance compliance inspections. Meeting minutes also state that the redesigned GSA Resource Center will serve as an information clearinghouse with links to all of the PBC programs.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of GSA should coordinate with DOD and sponsoring agencies to give consideration to developing uniform standards and guidance for the PBC program to address inconsistencies, as appropriate. Such an effort could include, for example, standard policies and procedures for compliance site inspections and utilization reports, a determination of the appropriate frequency of compliance site inspections and utilization reports, and standard criteria and processes for reversions of property to the government.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GSA reported substantive discussions of this recommendation at the Sponsoring Agency Roundtable discussion held 28-29 March 2007. It stated that is has improved communication about the PBC programs and properties, enhance the Property Disposal Resource Center and will now have the means to better allocate resources to the program.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of GSA should coordinate and work with DOD and sponsoring agencies to develop strategies for addressing various challenges facing agencies and grantees. These include the need to allocate sufficient resources to manage the program and to improve communication about the program's legal complexities, the reversion process, and the characteristics of individual properties. This effort could be done in conjunction with, or as part of, the recommendation to develop uniform standards and guidance for the program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

 

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