Author: Daniel Himebaugh
Earlier this week, the Government Accountability Office reported that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management participated in multiple transactions involving the illegal sale or purchase of land since 1995. I won't comment on the GAO's audit, but it does remind me of a recent Reason Foundation study that readers of this blog will want to check out. The study is called Knowing What You Own: An Efficient Government How-To Guide for Managing Federal Property Inventories, and it focuses on problems with the way federal property is currently managed.
The study's authors, Anthony Randazzo and John M. Palatiello, explain that the federal government lacks a basic property inventory system, meaning that no one knows for sure how much property the government really owns. The best estimate is that the federal government owns "1.2 million buildings, structures, and land parcels, including 14,000 buildings and structures currently designated as excess and 55,000 identified as under- and not-utilized." This assessment, however, "comes from an incomplete database built from inconsistent data managed mainly by agencies themselves, each using its own inventory method, rather than an accurate, centralized inventory."
The U.S. government owns more land than any other property owner in the nation, but has failed to utilize even basic inventorying tools, such as GIS mapping, or uniform property status reporting, to keep track of its holdings. Randazzo and Palatiello estimate that divesting federal property (legally, of course) could bring $1.2 trillion in federal revenue — certainly helpful to a government buried in debt. It will be hard for the government to turn this property into cash, however, before it even knows what it owns.