Monday, May 7, 2012

Where is my building?

Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair

     Have you known people who owned something they didn’t know they owned?  Well look in the mirror- that person is you, the taxpayer.  According to a US Government Accountability Office(GAO) report ten years ago, over thirty(30) federal government agencies control hundreds of thousands of real property assets worldwide, including facilities and land, worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Many of these assets are no longer consistent with agencies’ missions. Others are no longer needed. And many of the assets are in an alarming state of disrepair.  The report said that twenty four federal agencies (including the Department of Defense) reported over 45,000 underutilized buildings that cost U.S. taxpayers $1.6 billion per year to operate.
     Here’s the kicker- the report said the GAO couldn’t provide an accurate inventory of what the federal government owned in real property.   The report states:  “Our own internal documents contained data that is unreliable and of limited usefulness. Therefore decision-makers, such as Congress and the OMB, do not have access to quality data on what real property assets the government owns, their value, how efficiently assets are being used and what the overall costs are involved in preserving, protecting and investing in them.”
    Back in 2009, Senator Tom Coburn offered an amendment to a bill that would have established a five year pilot program giving the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) temporary authority to sell or demolish property that the federal government owns but no longer needs.  The amendment failed. 
      In 2010, Dr. Coburn published, “The Oklahoma Waste Report.” You can view the report in its entirety at   In it he details wasteful federal government spending in Oklahoma.  Coburn is not your typical politician who ‘brings home the bacon.’  He knows that when he does that, he is mortgaging our children and grandchildren’s future.  Coburn says taxpayers are spending nearly $20 million each year to maintain thousands of empty or unneeded federal properties throughout Oklahoma. Rather than disposing of the properties, or putting them to good use, they have instead drained precious resources.  He says the federal government owns more than 57 buildings in Oklahoma that it no longer uses  AT ALL, with a replacement value estimated at more than $26.5 million and annual maintenance costs of $457,000.
      And it’s not just the federal government that has this under utilized building issue.  State and local government have buildings and properties they own they no longer need.  Last year, Oklahoma State Representative T.W. Shannon, (R-Lawton), authored HB #1438 which requires the state's Director of Central Services to publish a report detailing state-owned properties, including a list of the five percent most underutilized properties, the value of those properties and the potential for purchase if sold.   
      This year Shannon authored HB #2262 that was approved unanimously by both chambers and signed into law by Governor Fallin on April 24th.  It created a ‘Maintenance of State Buildings Revolving Fund’ to which proceeds from any sales of state assets will be deposited for expenditure on the maintenance and repair of Oklahoma state government’s aging buildings and properties.  Now that’s just common sense- sell an unused building and repair one you are using.  Why borrow money (issue bonds) to fix up the State Capital when we have assets we can sell and use those proceeds to give the building a facelift?  Sounds like a plan.  The feds needs to take note and listen to Senator Coburn. 
      When the US government is borrowing forty three cents of every dollar they spend, it’s time to start liquidating assets and dumping unused buildings and properties is the first step- if we can find them.

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