The White House on Wednesday proposed a new commission tasked with finding billions of dollars in savings by figuring out what to do with the federal government's bloated real estate inventory.
The government is holding on to thousands of excess and underused properties, and despite recurring pledges to shed them it has struggled to break through the red tape and make it happen.
But the president is proposing a board of private- and public-sector leaders to identify which civilian buildings to sell or consolidate and to put a set of recommendations to Congress for an up-or-down vote.
Jeffrey Zients, a deputy director in the Office of Management and Budget, said the idea is to break through the bureaucracy -- efforts to sell excess federal property are often caught up by a requirement that Washington first offer it to other agencies or local governments. Zients, noting that the federal government is far and away the largest owner of real estate in America, said 14,000 properties have already been designated as excess.
The move by President Obama comes a day after the Government Accountability Office released a staggering report detailing billions of dollars in waste across hundreds of duplicative and overlapping programs. Republicans seized on the report as evidence that more must be cut from the federal budget.
But Zients said Wednesday the White House is on the same page with GAO and agrees that the government must be consolidated.
A senior administration official, citing Obama's State of the Union address pledge to streamline government, said proposals in the president's 2012 budget plan targeting duplicative or ineffective programs would save $33 billion in one year. The official said the real estate recommendations should return $15 billion in savings over three years.
The commitment to shedding the real estate fat is not a new one. Obama over the summer signed a memorandum ordering department heads to "identify and eliminate" unneeded properties, with the goal of saving at least $3 billion by fiscal 2012. Former President George W. Bush made a similar efficiency pledge in 2004.
While the administration claims it's making serious headway, a recent inventory from the Federal Real Property Council showed that the federal government picked up thousands of new buildings in 2009.