Federal Real Property:

Improved Data Needed to Strategically Manage Historic Buildings, Address Multiple Challenges

GAO-13-35: Published: Dec 11, 2012. Publicly Released: Jan 10, 2013.

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What GAO Found

The General Services Administration (GSA), the National Park Service (NPS), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have undertaken portfolio-wide efforts in recent years to identify historic buildings they hold, nominate some of those buildings to the National Register of Historic Places, and manage their historic buildings in an effort to comply with the requirements in the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and relevant executive orders. While these agencies use and preserve some of their historic buildings to meet mission needs, others are excess or unsuited for current mission needs. GAO found several instances in which these agencies leased part or all of some historic buildings to non-federal entities that could use and preserve the buildings. GAO also found that these agencies had implemented projects in some of their historic buildings to improve their sustainable performance, such as installing green roofs and energy-efficient heating and cooling systems.

GSA, NPS, and VA face an array of challenges in managing historic buildings, including functional limitations of older buildings in relation to contemporary mission needs and current building codes, budgetary limitations, and competing stakeholder interests. Competing stakeholder interest can become apparent during the required consultation with stakeholders, such as the state historic preservation officers, prior to implementing projects that may affect a historic building. Compounding these property management challenges, the selected agencies' data on historic buildings in the Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP) are not complete. GSA and VA are still working to evaluate many buildings that are over 50 years old. Also, GSA and NPS have not reported complete and consistent historic-building data to the FRPP--in comparison to data they track within their agencies' historic-building databases. GAO reported its concerns with the reliability of FRPP data in 2012. This review emphasizes the relevance of these concerns to the historic-building data included in the database. In June 2012, GAO recommended improvements to the FRPP database to enhance its consistency, completeness, and usefulness in federal decision making. Such improvements are also necessary to increase the consistency and completeness of historic-building data in the FRPP.

Why GAO Did This Study

The federal government has made some progress addressing previously identified issues with managing federal real property. This includes establishing the Federal Real Property Council (FRPC) and creating the FRPP database to identify and report agencies' real property, including attributes such as historic status. GAO was asked to assess issues related to historic preservation at nondefense agencies. GAO's review focused on-- GSA, NPS, and VA--three nondefense agencies that hold significant numbers of historic buildings. This report identifies (1) actions these agencies have taken to manage historic federal buildings, and (2) any challenges they have faced. GAO selected and visited a sample of 31 historic buildings managed by the three agencies. The results of these site visits cannot be generalized but provide important insights. GAO interviewed agency officials and reviewed agencies' efforts to preserve, use or lease, and improve the sustainable performance of those buildings. GAO also interviewed officials from the selected agencies about their agencies' preservation programs, including actions to identify and report on their historic buildings.

What GAO Recommends

GSA--in collaboration and consultation with NPS, VA, and FRPC member agencies, and others--should ensure that the action plan being developed to improve FRPP also addresses the need for improved data on historic buildings. GSA agreed with GAO's recommendation and further reported that it has, in part, already taken action to rectify inconsistencies GAO found between GSA's FRPP data and its internal data sources.

For more information, contact David Wise at (202) 512-2834 or wised@gao.gov.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Previously, GAO reported that data elements in the Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP) database were not always defined and reported consistently and accurately. In 2012, GAO reviewed agencies' FRPP historic building data and found that inconsistencies remained. Specifically, GAO found that the historic status of over 75 percent and 63 percent of General Services Administration (GSA) and National Park Service (NPS) buildings, respectively, were categorized as "not evaluated" in FRPP. In addition, FRPP data for NPS in fiscal year 2011 showed that NPS had almost 1,500 national historic landmark buildings, while its reporting to Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) in 2011 indicates NPS had 177 national historic landmarks. These data inconsistencies were because of FRPP's lack of a status code for buildings that are "contributing" elements in a national historic landmark (or National Register listed) site or district. Lastly, ACHP officials told GAO that they do not have access to FRPP data, despite their request to GSA, to conduct analyses on federal historic buildings. GAO found that GSA allows access to agencies' FRPP data only when access is granted by individual agency data administrators. ACHP officials also noted it is difficult for ACHP to draw quantifiable summary data from individual agencies' Preserve America submissions because agencies inconsistently report historic building data. Therefore, GAO recommended that GSA determine whether changes are needed--to historic data elements or guidance--to ensure that data are consistently and accurately reported; develop in FRPP fiscal-year summary reports, data that will better convey to the public and stakeholders--including OMB and Congress--a sense of the extent of historic buildings held by agencies, such as total numbers or percentages; and, facilitate ACHP's access to FRPP data, as appropriate, so that ACHP can better fulfill its historic-building advisory role to Congress and the President. In 2014, GSA first, updated its FRPP annual guidance to agencies to include updated definitions for each of the historic designation data elements. Second, GSA released a series of FRPP end-of-year summary reports that now conveys to the public and interested stakeholders a sense of the extent of historic buildings held by federal agencies. Finally, in 2016, GSA worked with ACHP to facilitate and grant it access to FRPP data. As a result, FRPP historic building data should be more consistent, accurate and accessible to the public and stakeholders but also better equip stakeholders to make decisions regarding historic preservation.

    Recommendation: The Acting Administrator of GSA--in collaboration and consultation with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), NPS, VA, and FRPC member agencies--should ensure that the action plan being developed to improve FRPP data includes actions to improve historic-building data by addressing the following areas, at a minimum: (1) determining whether changes are needed--to historic data elements or guidance--to ensure that data are consistently and accurately reported; (2) developing, in FRPP fiscal-year summary reports, data that will better convey to the public and stakeholders--including Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Congress--a sense of the extent of historic buildings held by agencies, such as total numbers or percentages; and, (3) facilitating ACHP's access to FRPP data, as appropriate, so that ACHP can better fulfill its historic-building advisory role to Congress and the President.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

 

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