Federal Real Property:

Actions Needed to Improve How Agencies Manage Structures

GAO-14-87: Published: Jan 6, 2014. Publicly Released: Feb 5, 2014.

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What GAO Found

In 2012, federal agencies reported to the Federal Real Property Council (FRPC)--an organization comprised of all real property holding federal agencies--that they are responsible for operating over 480,000 federally owned structures. Information about these structures is recorded in the FRPC's Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP), the government's comprehensive database that describes the nature, use, and extent of federal real property. About 176,000 of those structures are operated by civilian federal agencies. The federal government manages a wide variety of structures. Some of these are common across agencies, such as roads and parking structures, while some are more specific to agencies' missions, such as historic structures or particle accelerators.

Agencies take different approaches to defining and inventorying structures making the aggregation of data in the FRPP's database unreliable. Agencies we reviewed defined structures differently leading to inconsistencies in what assets are included in the FRPP, including counting some building-like facilities as structures. We also found that these agencies counted structures differently, provided inaccurate structure location information, and categorized their structures inconsistently, all of which limits the usefulness of the data on structures in the FRPP. Additionally, the agencies we reviewed submitted incorrect information for key data elements, such as the replacement value, annual operating costs, and condition. General Services Administration (GSA) officials who manage the FRPP said that FRPC chose to provide flexibility in the reporting guidance for data on structures to account for the wide diversity in federal structures, but it also aggregates the data as if they were comparable. Even if this data were useful, FRPC reports very little information on structures, and officials at GSA told us that there is low interest in and demand for this information, creating few incentives to improve data reliability. In prior reports, we have stressed the importance of limiting the number of elements to the vital few that are considered essential for producing data for decision making in light of the costs in collecting this data.

Agencies generally face similar challenges in managing structures as they do in managing buildings. Officials from all of the selected agencies stated that most challenges centered on prioritizing resources to maintain structures, disposing of excess structures, and ensuring their safety and security.

Why GAO Did This Study

The federal government's real property portfolio includes land, buildings, and structures. GAO has designated the management of federal real property as high-risk based largely on the management of federal buildings. However, over half of the assets are structures, such as roads, dams, and radio towers. GAO was asked to examine management issues related to structures. This report examines (1) the scale and scope of federally owned or leased structures, (2) how federal agencies track and categorize federal structures, and (3) the extent to which the challenges federal agencies face in managing buildings also apply to structures. GAO analyzed FRPP data on structures managed by federal civilian agencies against federal internal control standards for executive branch agencies and OMB guidelines, visited 24 sites selected to represent a variety of structure types from five civilian federal agencies with high numbers of structures, and interviewed officials from the five agencies, OMB and GSA about FRPP data collection and how agencies manage their structures.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that OMB, in coordination with the FRPC, develop guidance to improve agencies internal controls to produce consistent, accurate and reliable information on their structures. GSA, in coordination with the FRPC, should clarify the definition of structures and assess the feasibility of limiting the data collected on structures submitted to the FRPP. OMB and GSA agreed with the recommendations, and GSA provided an action plan to implement GAO's recommendations.

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

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm the actions that OMB has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To better ensure the quality of both the more detailed data that agencies collect on their structures and the summary information submitted in the FRPP, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget should, in collaboration with FRPC, develop guidance to improve agencies' internal controls to produce consistent, accurate, and reliable data on their structures.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2014, GAO reported that federal agencies communicated to the Federal Real Property Council (FRPC) that they are responsible for operating over 480,000 structures owned by the federal government. Information about federally-owned structures is recorded in the Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP), the government's comprehensive database that describes the nature, use and extent of federal real property. Federal agencies operate a wide variety of structures including roads and parking structures to historic structures and particle accelerators. Agencies take different approaches to defining and inventorying structures making the aggregation of data in the FRPP's database unreliable. The five agencies GAO reviewed defined structures differently leading to inconsistencies in what assets are included in the FRPP, including building-like structures such as power plants, pumping stations and underground parking garages. This inconsistent information limits the usefulness of the FRPP's data on structures. In addition, two of the five agencies did not develop a standard definition for a structure. Office of Management and Budget guidelines state that agencies should develop detailed guidance necessary for producing reliable, consistent data. GSA real property officials responsible for the FRPP stated that they, in coordination with the FRPC, chose to give agencies flexibility to define structures themselves and that FRPP guidance, therefore, does not define a structure. Because these agencies did not define what constituted a structure, the categorization of structures may vary by installation, resulting in inconsistent information within the agencies. GAO concluded that a clear demarcation between buildings and structures would be useful for ensuring that FRPP's data related to buildings are complete and that agencies do not use the flexibility they have in defining structures to include assets that are more appropriately considered buildings. Therefore, GAO recommended that GSA, in coordination with FRPC, should clarify the definition of structures and ensure that building-like structures are identified as buildings. In 2016, GAO confirmed that GSA, through FRPC, had modified the FRPP reporting requirements for the fiscal year 2015 version of the database to include a standard definition of buildings, which will provide agencies a clearer definition between structures and buildings to classify their real property assets. As a result, the reliability, consistency and usefulness of agency real property data for both buildings and structures and the usefulness of the data should increase.

    Recommendation: To better ensure the quality of the data in FRPP and focus agency resources to consistently account for structures, the Administrator of GSA should, in collaboration with the FRPC, issue guidance to federal agencies clarifying the definition of structures. This clarification should ensure that building-like structures are identified as buildings.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2014, GAO reported that federal agencies reported to the Federal Real Property Council (FRPC) that they are responsible for operating over 480,000 structures owned by the federal government. Information about federally-owned structures is recorded in the Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP), the government's most comprehensive database that describes the nature, use and extent of federal real property. GAO reported that federal agencies operated a wide variety of structures but recorded inaccurate and incorrect information about their structures, such as for location or condition, limiting the usefulness of the data. Agency officials GAO interviewed stated that the some required data elements for structures were not useful, such as specific geographic coordinates for a 100 mile long canal, or cost too much to collect accurate information relative to the value of the structure, such as for a structure that was not open to the public and not used by the agency. Additionally, the agencies GAO reviewed submitted incorrect information for some data elements to the FRPP. GAO also found that FRPC reported very little information on structures, and officials at GSA told GAO that there is low interest in and demand for this information, creating few incentives to improve data reliability. In prior reports, GAO stressed the importance of limiting the number of elements to the vital few that are considered essential for producing data for decision making in light of the costs in collecting this data. Therefore, GAO recommended that GSA, through FRPC, assess the feasibility of limiting the data elements agencies would be required to submit for structures submitted to the FRPP. GSA agreed with the recommendation and in 2016 GSA, through FRPC, eliminated 11 different required data elements for structures in the fiscal year 2014 version of the FRPP, such as street address and latitude and longitude. In the fiscal year 2015 guidance, these same 11 data elements became optional for structures. As a result, federal agencies are more likely to focus their limited resources on ensuring that information for more vital data elements are collected and reliable.

    Recommendation: To better ensure the quality of the data in FRPP and focus agency resources to consistently account for structures, the Administrator of GSA should, in collaboration with the FRPC, assess the feasibility of limiting the data elements agencies would be required to submit for structures submitted to the FRPP.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

 

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