Tips for knowing what the government owns

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

The entire federal government has been ordered by the President to cut costs by getting rid of “unneeded federal real estate.”

Sounds great in theory, but there’s one catch. No one seems to be sure exactly how much land and property the federal government owns.

At the heart of the problem, according to Anthony Randazzo, director of economic research at the Reason Foundation, is there’s no reason right now to spend the time, effort and money to find out what’s in the national inventory.


He told Federal News Radio that the effort will have to be made at some point, so now is better than later.

If we’re really going to have to avoid serious problems down the road with understanding what we own, we’re just going to have to bite the bullet and do it now. Most agencies have a general sense of what they own, so I think really the key thing is just getting everybody on board so that everybody does it. I think it’s more a matter of initiative than it is the actual process and the man hours.

Once all the federal agencies are on board, the next step said Randazzo is to start counting.

What we need is what I term a “comprehensive centralized inventory” that is going to start with taking an inventory of inventories, which is every single agency or federal group that owns any kind of property gathers together a list of all of it, what it’s used for, what it’s worth and they report it to a centralized place.

Randazzo acknowledged “it sounds like it’s really simple but I just hasn’t been done.”

The Presidential Memorandum, said Randazzo, “is a good start, but it’s not enough.”

For what needs to be done, Randazzo and the Reason Foundation have released a report titled, Knowing What the Federal Government Owns: A how-to guide for managing federal property and assets.

The study makes 12 recommendations for the federal government:

  1. Build a real property inventory.
  2. Start by evaluating any existing inventories.
  3. Use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology to map and catalog real property data.
  4. Centralize and streamline the management of all state or local property.
  5. Standardize reporting methods for all government agencies and divisions.
  6. Put the inventory online for public access.
  7. Use the inventory to make informed decisions and manage the properties.
  8. Keep the inventory up to date online.
  9. Divest unneeded land and assets to save taxpayer money.
  10. Utilize the wide range of private sector expertise available to manage the assets.
  11. Align the assets and inventory with defined policy goals.
  12. Look for efficiency gains.

The report cites one estimate which suggests all surplus federal property could be sold for over $1.2 trillion.