Federal Real Property:

Progress Made Toward Addressing Problems, but Underlying Obstacles Continue to Hamper Reform

GAO-07-349: Published: Apr 13, 2007. Publicly Released: Apr 13, 2007.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Mark L. Goldstein
(202) 512-3000
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

GAO prepared this report under the Comptroller General's authority to conduct evaluations on his own initiative to assist Congress. Federal real property is a high-risk area due to excess and deteriorating property, reliance on costly leasing, unreliable data, and security challenges. GAO's objectives were to determine (1) what progress the administration and major real property-holding agencies have made in strategically managing real property and addressing long-standing problems and (2) what problems and obstacles, if any, remain to be addressed. GAO reviewed documents and interviewed officials from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and nine agencies that hold 93 percent of federal property.

The administration and real property-holding agencies have made progress toward strategically managing federal real property and addressing long-standing problems. In response to the President's Management Agenda real property initiative and a related executive order, agencies have, among other things, established asset management plans; standardized data reporting; and adopted performance measures. Also, the administration has created a Federal Real Property Council (FRPC) and plans to work with Congress to provide agencies with tools to better manage real property. These are positive steps, but underlying problems still exist. For example, the Departments of Energy (Energy) and Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reported during this review that over 10 percent of their facilities are excess or underutilized. Also, Energy, NASA, the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Departments of the Interior (Interior), State (State), and Veterans Affairs (VA) reported repair and maintenance backlogs for buildings and structures that total over $16 billion. The Department of Defense (DOD) reported a $57 billion restoration and modernization backlog. Also, Energy, Interior, GSA, State, and VA reported an increased reliance on leasing to meet space needs. While agencies have made progress in collecting and reporting standardized real property data, data reliability is still a challenge at DOD and other agencies, and agencies lack a standard framework for data validation. Finally, agencies reported using risk-based approaches to prioritize security needs, which GAO has suggested, but some cited obstacles such as a lack of resources for security enhancements. In past high-risk updates, GAO called for a transformation strategy to address the long-standing problems in this area. While the administration's approach is generally consistent with what GAO envisioned, certain areas warrant further attention. Specifically, problems are exacerbated by underlying obstacles that include competing stakeholder interests, legal and budgetary limitations, and the need for improved capital planning. For example, agencies cited local interests as barriers to disposing of excess property, and agencies' limited ability to pursue ownership leads them to lease property that may be more cost-effective to own over time.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OMB has required agency-specific validation and verification plans, and according to OMB officials, has developed a Federal Real Property Profile validation protocol to certify agency data.

    Recommendation: The Deputy Director for Management, OMB, in conjunction with the Federal Real Property Council (FRPC), should develop a framework that agencies can use to better ensure the validity and usefulness of key real property data in the Federal Real Property Profile. At a minimum, the framework would suggest standards for frequency of validation methods, error tolerance, and reporting on reliability.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Deputy Director for Management

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2007, GAO reported that the administration and real property-holding agencies made progress toward strategically managing federal real property and addressing long-standing problems. However, these problems persisted and underlying obstacles remained. More specifically, underlying obstacles, such as competing stakeholder interests, legal and budgetary limitations, and a need for improved capital planning, persisted. Federal agencies continued to face long-standing problems in the federal real property area, which included excess and underutilized property, deteriorating facilities and maintenance and repair backlogs, reliance on costly leasing, and unreliable real property data. Agencies also continued to face many challenges securing real property. Moreover, these problems were exacerbated by underlying obstacles that continued such as competing stakeholder interests, legal and budgetary limitations, and the need for improved capital planning. Therefore, GAO recommended that OMB develop an action plan to address the underlying obstacles that hamper real property management reform. In 2011, the administration proposed the Civilian Property Realignment Act (CPRA) to address the excess property problem and its legal and financial obstacles, as well as stakeholder influences in real property decision making. We believe that CPRA meets the intent of recommendation. It lays the groundwork for addressing other real property management issues and is focusing congressional debate on the full range of real property management challenges.

    Recommendation: The Deputy Director for Management, OMB, in conjunction with the Federal Real Property Council (FRPC), should develop an action plan for how the FRPC will address key problems, including the continued reliance on costly leasing in cases where ownership is more cost effective over the long term, the challenges of securing real property assets, and reducing the effect of competing stakeholder interests on businesslike outcomes in real property decisions.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Deputy Director for Management

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2007, we reported that federal real property continued to be a high-risk area due to excess and deteriorating property, reliance on costly leasing, unreliable data, and security challenges. Furthermore, agencies' efforts to improve long-term capital planning were not clearly linked with the real property management initiative that the administration had established at that time. We recommended that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) establish a clearer link or crosswalk between agencies' efforts under the administration's real property initiative and broader capital planning guidance that OMB provides to agencies. In response to our recommendation, OMB agreed that coordinating these efforts should be improved and said that greater emphasis on real property in its guidance would result in progressive improvement in this area of capital planning as agencies' efforts evolved. OMB recently identified a number of improvements since our report that demonstrate this progressive improvement and collectively address our recommendation. For example, a June 2010 Presidential Memorandum speaks to a broader management strategy for real property that goes beyond acquisition, disposal, and operations and maintenance, and includes integration with sustainability efforts and human resource initiatives such as telework. Furthermore, the Administration's recently proposed Civilian Property Realignment Board would give agencies an extra tool to resolve common obstacles and more efficiently manage real property capital investments. In advance of this proposal being enacted, OMB has established a Real Property Advisory Committee (RPAC), made up of OMB and select agency real property officials, which is meeting with agencies to go over their current inventories and trends. RPAC is also starting discussions with agencies about their current missions and human resource and technology advances in relation to real property needs. According to OMB, this will help to integrate real property management within the larger context of strategic planning within agencies. Finally, OMB has proposed additional data elements to be included in the Federal Real Property Profile which is a single database that includes all real property under the control of executive branch agencies that will provide further information, such as data on lease expirations, which will allow agencies to look retrospectively and prospectively at their inventories. As a result of these efforts, the government's real property management initiatives have become more clearly linked with agencies' long-term capital planning efforts and agencies are better positioned to address the problems that led to our designation of real property management as a high-risk area.

    Recommendation: The Deputy Director for Management, OMB, in conjunction with the Federal Real Property Council (FRPC), should establish a clearer link or crosswalk between agencies' efforts under the real property initiative and broader capital planning guidance.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Deputy Director for Management

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Oct 30, 2014

Oct 27, 2014

Oct 24, 2014

Oct 20, 2014

Oct 9, 2014

Oct 8, 2014

Oct 2, 2014

Sep 30, 2014

Sep 26, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here