By Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) Special to Federal News Radio
As a freshman in the House of Representatives in 1993, I chose to join the House Government Reform Committee because I believed strongly in the committee’s mission as the chief investigative panel in the U.S. House of Representatives. Then and now, I remain strongly committed to the oversight of federal programs, adoption of private sector efficiencies and working to make government good stewards of taxpayer dollars. These principles continue to guide my work in rooting out federal waste, fraud and abuse. Unfortunately, even as our nation experiences challenging economic times, the federal government continues to be part of the problem. Over the last four years, America has fallen from first in the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness rankings to fifth. A ballooning deficit, unsustainable entitlement programs and the government’s mismanagement of its assets are some of the obstacles to economic recovery.
My top priority as chairman of the Government Operations Subcommittee is to cut government waste, fraud and abuse, even beyond just the low hanging fruit. In fact, a report released by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee uncovered that the president’s inspectors general have 16,906 unimplemented recommendations that would result in $67 billion in savings. As an example, taxpayers are paying $21.6 million to maintain more than 3,000 abandoned homes in New Orleans. America can and must do better.
The federal government must also better utilize its assets. Unfortunately and unacceptably, government wastes billions of taxpayer dollars annually through the mismanagement and underutilization of federally-owned properties. According to the GAO High Risk Report released in February, “The federal government faces long-standing problems in managing federal real property, including effectively managing excess and underutilized property.” In a hearing I recently chaired, it was disclosed that the federal government still holds approximately 77,700 vacant or underutilized buildings that cost taxpayers more than $1.6 billion annually.
The mismanagement of our assets is shameful. I have held hearings in vacant federal buildings and visited federal sites that would shock and awe the American taxpayer. An example of this underutilization is the 6,600-acre Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland. This prime real estate located in our nation’s capital region has 200 of its 500 buildings designated as excess. This is unacceptable.
As a result of some of my prior work, a number of idle properties are being turned into revenue sources and generating new business and job opportunities. In fact, the Georgetown Heating Plant complex, located in a high-rent area of Washington, D.C., sat empty and idle for more than a decade and cost taxpayers $3.5 million. This property was finally auctioned off in 2013 for $19.5 million.
I am confident we can come to bipartisan solutions to liquidate, consolidate and better manage our assets. Currently, I am working on legislation that will dramatically expedite the sale of excess federal property. We can and must do a better job of turning our deficits into assets.
Finally, government can consolidate federal programs, eliminate unneeded redundancies and improve efficiency. An excellent example of where we can do better in these aspects is in reform of federal IT programs.
The federal government spends approximately $80 billion for IT annually. GAO has identified broad waste and unnecessary duplication in the government’s IT infrastructure. In 2011, the government funded 622 separate human resources systems ($2.4 billion), 580 financial management systems ($2.7 billion) and 777 supply chain management systems ($3.3 billion). Many of these back office systems perform similar functions and through consolidation of these efforts, we can save taxpayers billions of dollars and strengthen our IT infrastructure.
I look forward to working with my colleagues to strengthen our nation and ensure our children and grandchildren have the bright future they deserve.