The Kenosha North Pierhead Lighthouse, located near Simmons Island Park, Kenosha, Wis., is one of several federal sites divested in recent years. (GSA Auctions)

President Obama’s goal of trimming the federal real estate portfolio moved one step closer to reality Thursday as a House panel approved legislation that would establish a commission to select federal buildings, warehouses, storage sites and silos worth selling.

The bill, approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, would establish an independent commission to review federal sites and determine which could be sold or given to states and cities or nonprofit groups. The proposed panel, modeled on the Base Realignment Commission (BRAC) that selected military sites to shutter, would make recommendations to Congress and the president to be accepted or rejected en bloc.

The panel would be paid for with $60 million from the General Services Administration, which owns and operates most federal properties and is already preparing for a tight 2012 budget year. Eventually, the panel’s costs would be paid for with money generated by selling federal property, though most of the net proceeds would go towards deficit reduction, according to the bill.

Once passed, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) said his bill would “result in taxpayer savings and efficiencies immediately.”

Obama last year ordered federal agencies to cut $8 billion in building costs by the end of fiscal 2012. Plans call for consolidating the offices of agencies located near each other, ending costly leases and then selling or divesting properties no longer needed, including office buildings, storage warehouses and even government-owned lighthouses.

The federal government is the nation’s largest landowner, owning about 1.2 million buildings and other structures with a total annual operating and maintenance budget of $19 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget. But an inventory process started during the George W. Bush administration has identified about 14,000 vacant structures and about 55,000 others that are underused.

The bill approved Thursday awaits final approval by the House and then heads to the Senate, where similar proposals are in the works.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Further reading:

Obama orders cuts in federal building costs, could affect thousands of leases

Finding good homes for lighthouses

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