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Empty Federal Building Sits Idle for Over a Decade

Georgetown Power Plant Costs Taxpayers Millions

June 19, 2012

Washington, DC – At an empty federal building sitting idle for over a decade on prime real estate in the nation’s capital, Committee leaders today called on the Obama Administration and the General Services Administration (GSA) to get serious about ending the wasteful mismanagement and underutilization of valuable federal assets.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL) and Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-CA) led a Congressional hearing today at the vacant Georgetown Heating Plant, a high-value federal asset which hasn’t operated for over a decade but has cost the taxpayers $3.5 million in operating expenses.

“This building sits idle on some of the most valuable real estate in Washington, and has cost taxpayers millions of dollars in operating costs and millions more in lost opportunities,” Mica said. “This power plant has served as little more than a high-cost garage and source for spare parts. GSA sat on its assets for a decade before they finally put up the ‘for sale’ sign yesterday, one day before this hearing.”

“The Administration claims there are 14,000 excess federal properties,” Mica added. “We have held hearings at three so far, and if necessary we will hold hearings at each of the remaining 13,997 until the Administration gets serious about improving the management of the nation’s assets.”

“Despite our budget deficit, and despite even the direction of President Obama’s own real property directive in 2010, GSA continues to operate as if it’s business as usual,” Denham said. “We’ve waited over 10 years for GSA to act while this building has sat vacant, costing the taxpayer more than $3.5 million. It is outrageous that the federal government continues to waste billions of taxpayer dollars every year on under-used and vacant buildings like this one. It’s time we get serious about eliminating waste and increasing efficiency in our government. This is exactly why I introduced and the House passed the Civilian Property Realignment Act – to get agencies like GSA to get rid of or redevelop unneeded properties.”

“Today’s hearing highlighted yet another example of mismanagement at the GSA,” said U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), a member of the Economic Development Subcommittee. “This building, which sits on two acres of land along the Potomac River in Georgetown is likely among the most valuable real estate in the nation. Yet, GSA has spent $3.5 million to maintain an empty building for a decade rather than move forward with the disposal process and generate a return for hardworking American taxpayers. Time and time again, GSA management fails to be a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars. The agency is in desperate need of reform. I thank Chairmen Mica and Denham for their commitment to highlighting these practices and bringing accountability to the GSA.”

The Georgetown Heating Plant, or the West Heat Plant, provided steam to federal buildings on the west side of the city until it was decommissioned in 2000. The location subsequently provided fuel storage and parking for government vehicles. In addition, the site supposedly served as a backup steam plant. However, it was revealed at today’s hearing that parts from the plant were cannibalized for use elsewhere, and the facility would not have been functional without restoring it.

The facility was only declared surplus property in November 2011, 11 years after it was closed as a steam plant. GSA is now commencing its marketing and appraisal efforts and intends to sell this property located in the densely developed area of Georgetown. Maximizing the return to the taxpayer of this high-value asset is critical.

“In October 2010, at the same time that GSA’s Jeff Neely was sitting in a hot tub in Las Vegas, Committee Republicans and I issued a report called‘Sitting on Our Assets: The Federal Government’s Misuse of Taxpayer-Owned Assets,’ as a blueprint for saving taxpayers’ money,” Mica continued.

That report highlighted the wasteful mismanagement of federally-owned properties. Since Mica and Denham became chairmen, they have held hearings at the underutilized Old Post Office Building and the empty Cotton Annex in Washington.

In order to address the problem of poor management of federal property, the House has passed legislation introduced by Chairman Denham called the Civilian Property Realignment Act (H.R. 1734). This bill will implement common-sense policies to help eliminate government waste and save billions of taxpayer dollars by selling or redeveloping high-value properties, consolidating federal space, maximizing the utilization rates of space, and streamlining the disposal of unneeded assets. H.R. 1734 would significantly improve federal real property management, and has the potential to save taxpayers billions of dollars.

More information from today’s hearing can be found here.

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