Details emerge about federal government's underutilized properties

this accompanies a chart

Despite plans to identify $15 billion in savings from its real estate inventory in coming years, the federal government has done little to promote -- or even identify -- the vacant and “underutilized” properties it owns or leases.

But more information has begun to emerge about the properties the government controls and which is ones are either considered underutilized or vacant.

After requests from Rep. Jeff Denham (R.-Calif.), chairman of the House subcommittee on public buildings, the General Services Administration, which serves as a real estate broker for many of the federal agencies, recently released a list of the 8,871 properties it owns or leases nationwide. The list includes office buildings, warehouses, laboratories, child care centers, post offices, courthouses, docks, parts of airports and other properties.

The list was not everything Denham had hoped for; he issued a statement after receiving the information saying he is still waiting on the GSA and other agencies to share the costs and revenue streams for their properties so Congress will have a better idea of where savings can be had. The list also reflects 2009 data, so it is more than a year old.

“I am hopeful that all of the other departments will work with GSA and with the committee as well in order to get a complete list of properties, their costs and revenue streams,” Denham said.

The GSA's properties comprise are a small slice of the government's entire inventory, which includes 14,000 vacant properties alone. The list does, however, offer insight into where the government might consider future consolidations, subleases or, possibly, sales. The vast majority of properties, 7,939, are listed as “over-utilized,” which for office properties indicates that they are more than 95 percent occupied. Only 176 properties are listed as “underutilized,” meaning that, for office buildings, they are less than 75 percent occupied, and even fewer -- only three, all outside the greater D.C. region -- are listed as “not utilized.” Other buildings that appear underutilized, including the Old Post Office pavilion, which has an annex that is vacant, were not given utilization measures.

The prospect of some of the “underutilized” properties being sold is unlikely (no one expects the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, for example, to hit the market). Emily Barocas, a GSA spokeswoman, warned against reading too much into the information, saying some properties could be listed as under-utilized because they were being renovated or included expiring leases.

“There are a number of reasons properties can end up being listed as underutilized,” she said.

But among the underutilized listings are leases and properties in D.C., Northern Virginia and the Maryland suburbs that would hold significant value for the private sector if they became available or could affect private landlords seeking government tenants if they absorb additional federal personnel, including leases of more than 100,000 square feet of offices in Falls Church, Alexandria and Arlington.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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