Fact check: Blum claims glut of federal buildings

Erin Jordan
Published: March 14 2014 | 12:25 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:36 am in Fact Check,

Introduction

“The federal government owns 55,000 vacant buildings costing over a billion dollars a year to maintain.”

Source of claim

Rod Blum, a Dubuque Republican running for Iowa's 1st Congressional District

Analysis

Rod Blum wants to restore fiscal sanity to the United States. That's one of the cornerstones of his bid to become the GOP nominee for Iowa 1st Congressional District.

As an example of waste, Blum makes a claim on his website, www.rodblum.com, that the feds own 55,000 vacant buildings that cost more than $1 billion to maintain.

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the federal government owns more than 900,000 buildings across the United States. The General Services Administration (GSA), considered the federal government's landlord, has been under scrutiny for several years for holding onto unneeded buildings at a huge cost to taxpayers.

Federal law requires the GSA to make buildings available to other federal, state and local agencies first before they can go on the market. Buildings can refer to anything from a storage shed to a large multistory building in a metropolitan area.

The exact number of vacant or underutilized buildings is hard to pin down. Different federal agencies report different numbers and categorize buildings in varying ways.

For example, GAO testimony released Feb. 10, 2011, said 24 federal agencies reported in fiscal 2009 that had 45,190 underutilized buildings with a total 341 million square feet. The report doesn't define "underutilized," but it likely includes vacant buildings.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reported 14,000 excess buildings and 55,000 underutilized buildings during a March 2, 2011, press briefing with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

An Aug. 6, 2012, report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service says the government had 77,700 buildings in fiscal 2010 considered either not utilized or underutilized. Operating and maintaining those buildings cost $1.67 billion that year, the service reported.

President Barack Obama's administration has tried to revamp the way these excess buildings are unloaded, but legislation to create a committee to expedite the sales has not passed through Congress.

Conclusion

Blum is in the ballpark with his claim the U.S. has 55,000 vacant buildings. The OMB said in 2011 there were 14,000 excess buildings, which has been interpreted by several news agencies that covered the press conference as meaning vacant. Jeffrey Zients, head of the Office Management and Budget, lists 55,000 underutilized buildings.

But several other federal agencies have listed higher numbers of underutilized federal buildings with operating costs of well over $1 billion a year.

We give Blum a true for his statement.

Sources

GAO report: http://www.gao.gov/assets/130/125474.html

Congressional Research Service report: https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42646.pdf

OMB press briefing: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/03/02/press-briefing-press-secretary-jay-carney-and-federal-chief-performance-


Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Is there other feedback and/or ideas you want to share with us? Tell us here.



Featured Jobs from corridorcareers.com