The Office of Management and Budget is asking a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit that accuses the agency of improperly withholding information about unused federal buildings that could be used to house services for the homeless.
OMB was sued in June by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), a D.C. legal nonprofit that represents the interests of homeless people. In the lawsuit, attorneys for the NLCHP alleged OMB refused to disclose full documents about surplus or unused properties owned by the federal government, and indicated there may be many properties that have gone unreported.
Lawyers for OMB filed a response to the lawsuit in federal court Monday, saying no records have been improperly withheld and asking the court to dismiss the complaint. OMB is represented by lawyers in the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. A spokesman for the division declined to provide additional comment Tuesday.
Under federal law (Title V of the McKinney-Vento Act), unused, underutilized or surplus properties owned by the government that are deemed suitable for the homeless must be listed in the Federal Register, and providers of homeless services can apply to lease the properties at no charge to run shelters, health clinics, soup kitchens and other services. Homeless services providers have an interest in obtaining those properties primarily because of cost — many providers are nonprofits and struggle to buy or rent real estate to operate services.
There are about 14,000 federal buildings and structures, including unused office buildings and empty warehouses, that are considered surplus and cost taxpayers $190 million a year to maintain, according to the Obama administration. A 2010 presidential memorandum suggested that some unneeded federal properties be sold to reduce the federal deficit.
Georgia Kazakis, a partner at Covington & Burling who is representing the NLCHP, said OMB’s response does not resolve the litigation, and that the group will continue to press the agency on why certain documents about federal properties have not been provided to them.
“It’s pretty clear OMB is going to continue to withhold various property reports from landholding agencies identifying what property should be disposed of, even though the same types of reports have been disclosed to the public,” Kazakis said. “We’re going to continue to aggressively litigate it.”