VA ramping up ‘freeze the footprint’ effort in next 6 months

The Veterans Affairs Department is evaluating its national building inventory of more than 1,100 outdated, underutilized and vacant facilities with the goal of developing a plan to dispose, consolidate or sell them within the next two  years.

The department has begun the process of disposing or reselling 142 of those buildings immediately, VA Secretary David Shulkin told reporters during a June 20 Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington.

The department has about 430 vacant or nearly empty buildings that are more than 60 years old, which cost VA about $7 million a year to maintain.

VA started the disposal or resell process for 71 of those buildings already, and it will  begin those processes for the remaining 71 within the next six months. The department will dispose or sell 288 buildings within the next two years.

“Maintaining vacant buildings, including close to 100  from the Revolutionary War and Civil War, makes no sense and we’re working as quickly as possible to get them out of our inventory,” Shulkin said in a June 20 statement.

The Veterans Benefits Administration will “freeze its footprint” in a few different ways. First, VBA will ramp up its telework program for employees. The benefits administration will also save space as it continues to digitize records and paperwork. VBA regional sites have been transitioning to a paperless claims processing system over the past few years, and the department expects all Veterans Benefits Administration offices will be paper-less by mid-2018.

In total, the department estimates these activities at VBA will save $15.7 million per year starting in 2017.

VA is also reviewing about 780 underutilized or partially vacant facilities.

“There are other buildings in there that are being partially utilized,” Shulkin told reporters. “We either want to fill them up, either with other tenants so the cost shares can be appropriately addressed, or we want to get out of those buildings so they become vacant and then we can address them.”

Some old buildings that date back to the Civil and Revolutionary Wars with a historical designation will take longer than others for VA to eliminate from its portfolio. Shulkin said the department will work with other organizations to donate or sell these buildings, or it will return them back to the General Services Administration’s federal inventory.

Facility consolidation was one of 13 areas of focus for Shulkin when he described the “state of VA” last month.

VA’s recent facility condition assessment of its own assets found that it needs $18 billion to fix or upgrade old buildings.