Two key lawmakers on Wednesday called for changes in how the government manages its inventory of federal properties, citing a September watchdog report that raised concerns about the system.

Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.)  and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who head the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, used the study’s findings to promote a bill they proposed that would require sale of underused spaces and stricter monitoring of federal property needs.

Congress’s nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said in its report that the government could save money by owning rather than renting high-value spaces that are needed in the long-term.

Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, a federal building in New York. (Courtesy of GSA). Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, a federal building in New York. (Courtesy of GSA).

The General Services Administration, which manages the federal inventory, has said it needs more funding to purchase or develop those types of spaces. But the watchdog report said the agency hasn’t provided calculations necessary to justify new acquisitions, according to the report.

“GSA and [the Office of Management and Budget] have decided the analysis is no longer necessary in light of the lack of capital funding for acquisitions and construction,” the report said.

About 3 percent of GSA’s total leases are considered high-value, meaning they cost at least $2.8 million per year, according to the GAO. However, those spaces represent one-third of the agency’s overall portfolio in terms of cost and size, the report said.

The GAO’s high-risk list — which identifies programs with the greatest potential for fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement — has included federal property management for the past 10 years. That trend has persisted in part because GSA relies too much on costly leasing, according to accountability office.

Carper and Coburn said their legislation would address many of the oversight issues brought up in the GAO report.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Carper said in a statement on Wednesday. “Given the sheer amount of property that our government manages, it should come as no surprise that we could be doing a better job of saving taxpayer money.”

Coburn said the report highlighted a lack of planning on the part of lawmakers and the GSA.

“Congress should put short-term political thinking aside and give the GSA the tools needed to make informed financial decisions,” he said, adding that GSA should implement “transparent processes that weigh costs and benefits when procuring property.”

The accountability office recommended that GSA take steps to improve its decision-making transparency for high-value leases, in part by providing more robust explanations for why the leases are necessary. The watchdog group also advised the agency to focus more on strategies for increasing ownership.

GSA agreed with the recommendations in its response to the report findings, but the agency also suggested it had seen no need to provide Congress with cost analyses during a time of gridlock over federal fiscal policies.

“GAO correctly points out that additional information would have been useful for Congress in evaluating certain leases,” the agency said. “However, that is a product not of intentional withholding of information, but rather requirements of GSA’s competitive real estate procurement process and today’s uncertain budget environment.”

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