Key Issues > Federal Real Property - High Risk Issue
government icon, source: Eyewire

Federal Real Property - High Risk Issue

The federal government continues to face a number of challenges to effectively managing its federal real property, including long-standing problems with excess and underutilized property and overreliance on leasing.

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The federal government’s real property portfolio—the hundreds of thousands of buildings it owns or leases for federal agencies—is large and diverse, and costs billions of dollars to operate and maintain.

And despite recent efforts, federal agencies continue to face long-standing challenges managing this property, especially with:

  • Effectively disposing of excess and underutilized property
  • Relying on leasing when owning would be less expensive in the long run
  • Physical security at federal facilities

Excess property

Federal agencies are holding on to thousands of excess or underutilized facilities, which are costly to maintain and could potentially be repurposed, exchanged, or sold. Despite reforms in the disposal process, the federal government still faces challenges including a lack of reliable data and a complex disposal process.

Old Courthouse in Ft. Myers, Florida, Sold and Converted into an Art Center

Old Courthouse in Ft. Myers, Florida, Sold and Converted into an Art Center

Source: GAO-14-48

Lease vs. own

Owning a building is often more cost effective than leasing it—and increasing the number of buildings the federal government owns could save millions of dollars per building.

However, federal agencies rely extensively on leasing, and the General Services Administration (GSA) (the central leasing agent for most agencies) now leases more space than it owns because it lacks the upfront funds to purchase the space. GSA has taken actions to remedy this situation, including developing a process to promote more informed leasing decisions, creating a long-term strategy for targeted ownership investments, and increasing competition to make its existing leasing program cheaper. However, GSA continues to rely too heavily on leasing when ownership would be more cost effective in the long run.

Physical security

Terrorism is a major threat to federally owned and leased property, as well as to the people who work in these buildings and the members of the public who visit them. This was evidenced by the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa, the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the 2001 anthrax attacks on Congress, and the 2013 shooting at the Washington Navy Yard.

In response, the federal government has spent billions of dollars on security upgrades. Key federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security and GSA, both have responsibilities for the security of federal buildings, as do the federal agencies that own or maintain their buildings. And while these agencies have worked to make federal buildings safer, more can be done—such as enhancing coordination among different agencies and better addressing physical security risks.

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  • portrait of Jill Naamane
    • Jill Naamane
    • Acting Director, Physical Infrastructure
    • naamane@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-2834
  • portrait of Catina Latham
    • Catina Latham
    • Acting Director, Physical Infrastructure
    • lathamc@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-2834