WASHINGTON – The Obama administration identified 14,000 unused or underused federal buildings or properties in the nation last year. A closer look at the administration’s list shows that almost 250 are in Colorado.
Jon Caldara, president of the free-market think tank the Independence Institute, said the figure is “remarkably high. It shows that the government doesn’t know how to manage its assets. If the private sector had them, it would have sold them off or rented them to bring in money.”
All but 48 of the excess properties or buildings belong or belonged to the U.S. Forest Service, which oversees 14 million federal acres in Colorado.
Steve Segin, a public information officer for the service’s Rocky Mountain Area coordination center, said 40 properties in its five-state region, including Colorado, are authorized to be sold. “If the properties have value, we sell them,” he said in an interview.
Nearly all of the sites or buildings are located in western and central Colorado. While ten excess buildings or properties lie in the Comanche National Grasslands, the vast majority sit in the I-25 corridor that runs from Pueblo to Fort Collins.
The community with the most unused sites is Minturn, a village in the White River National Forest near the ski resort town of Vail. It has 14 excess buildings that the U.S. Forest Service operates, including four family housing units and one dormitory.
The General Services Administration, the de facto landlord for the civilian federal government, defines an underutilized property as one that does not collect rent. But some congressional Republicans said this definition is too narrow.
“Plenty of properties are collecting rent but are still vastly underutilized,” Caroline Califf, a spokeswoman for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in an interview this week. “In Washington, D.C., the Old Post Office Building is federally owned and has tenants, but the space is incredibly underutilized. A vacant part of this high-value building causes the government to lose $6.5 million annually in operating costs.”
The Obama administration estimated that maintaining the excess properties and buildings costs taxpayers $190 million a year. It said that selling some of the properties and buildings have generated almost $1.5 billion in revenue.
Yet the Obama administration’s list of excess federal properties or buildings reveals that only one in Colorado is for sale. It said 95 have been disposed already, 89 are likely to be disposed, and 51 are likely to be demolished.
In March, the House of Representatives passed the Excess Federal Building and Property Disposal Act. All seven members of Colorado’s House delegation voted for the bill.
Sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the legislation would direct the Administrator of the GSA the responsibility to identify 15 high-value federal properties and sell them via public auction within five years. The measure would make a number of federal properties exempt, including those used for recreational and conservational purposes, postal properties, and those excluded for reasons of national security.
The Obama administration has not yet taken a position on Chaffetz’ bill, but has put forward its own proposal, which the White House estimates could generate $15 billion in the first three years of selling the properties. It estimated that maintaining the properties costs taxpayers $190 million a year.
Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said it is unlikely that neither proposal is likely to result in the actual disposal of many federal properties or buildings.
“Anything that makes perfect sense outside Washington is almost impossible to do in Washington,” he said. “Interest groups want to use these properties and buildings for their purposes: to sell them to other federal agencies, to give them to the homeless or local government, historic preservation groups want them for preservation. It’s inertia.”
A map showing the location of all federally owned lands can be viewed here.