OMB sued for not disclosing full records on federal buildings that could be used for homeless services

June 21, 2012

Attorneys at Covington & Burling are suing the Office of Management and Budget to obtain documents containing information about unused federal properties that they say could be used to provide services to the homeless.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is on behalf of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), a D.C. legal nonprofit that seeks to end homelessness. Covington is representing the nonprofit on a pro bono basis.

OMB has refused to disclose full reports about federal properties that are no longer needed by the government, the suit said. Information about those properties are reported to OMB from any federal agency that owns land. There may be many properties that have gone unreported, said the attorneys representing NLCHP.

Under federal law, property that is no longer needed by the government that is deemed “suitable” for the homeless must be listed in the federal register, and providers of homeless services can apply to use the properties to operate shelters, soup kitchens, health clinics and other services. Those providers are often nonprofits that struggle to buy real estate to operate those services, said Georgia Kazakis, a partner at Covington who is representing NLCHP.

“The barrier to providing services is affordable real estate,” Kazakis said. “If you can’t set up shop to provide job retraining or temporary housing, you won’t be able to serve the homeless. It enables homeless providers a right of first refusal so they get the property free of charge. They don’t have to plunk down millions to buy a piece of property in the District to serve the homeless.”

The NLCHP has repeatedly asked the OMB to provide the full property records, but the agency has offered only redacted versions of the records, NLCHP’s attorneys said.

An OMB spokesperson said the agency does not comment on pending legal matters.

In 2010, the Obama administration released information about roughly 14,000 federal buildings and structures — including office buildings and empty warehouses — that are considered excess, and cost taxpayers $190 million a year to maintain. A 2010 presidential memorandum suggested that some unneeded federal properties could be sold to reduce the federal deficit.

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for the Capital Business section of The Washington Post. She previously worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.
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