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Obama plan would accelerate sale of unneeded federal real estate

By the CNN Wire Staff
President Barack Obama's plan to create a board to sell off federal properties initially would generate $15 billion, an official says.
President Barack Obama's plan to create a board to sell off federal properties initially would generate $15 billion, an official says.
  • NEW: Official says the proposal will overcome red tape and parochial politics
  • NEW: The proposal must be approved by Congress
  • The board's work will bring in $15 billion in three years
  • Today, more than 14,000 government properties and buildings are considered excess

Washington (CNN) -- A vacant federal warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, is one of 14,000 properties targeted under a new proposal by President Barack Obama to accelerate the sale of federal real estate the government no longer needs.

Jeff Zients, the federal chief performing officer, said Wednesday the administration wants to create a panel that will recommend how the federal government can sell off excess real estate to bring in or save $15 billion over three years.

The proposed legislation, which requires congressional approval, would set up an independent board comprising public and private sector members to develop a plan for matching the government's real estate holdings with its core missions and programs, Zients told reporters at the White House.

Such a board would overcome restrictive procedures currently in place for selling federal real estate and help overcome local political interests that often stymie such transactions, Zients said.

"It's a very painful, slow process, and oftentimes it's blocked by political considerations," he said. Under the government proposal, the new panel would present Congress with "bundles" of properties identified as unneeded for an up-or-down vote on whether to sell them.

"I think by bundling the property and going above the local interest, we'll have a much better success rate of getting the properties sold," Zients said.

He cited two examples of the 14,000 properties identified so far as excess -- the Brooklyn warehouse that has been vacant for 10 years, and five vacant buildings in the Fort Worth, Texas, area formerly used by the National Archives.

Currently, the government wastes billions of dollars maintaining or otherwise keeping properties it doesn't need, Zients said.

The proposed new panel is part of a wider administration effort to eliminate waste and improve efficiency in government, said Zients, the deputy director for management in the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Called the Accountable Government Initiative, the administration effort headed by Zients already cut $16 billion in contract spending last year, terminated redundant programs in the president's 2012 budget request and avoided $4 billion in improper payments for government services, he said.

Now it is taking on the 1.2 million individual buildings or pieces of real estate of the federal government, which is the nation's largest property owner, Zients said.

Maintaining those properties costs $20 billion a year, he said.

Selling them has been a problem due to red tape from 20 requirements that must be met before a federal property can be sold or otherwise unloaded, financial barriers such as moving costs or other expenses from a sale, and local political interests that often prevent a transaction from taking place, Zients said.

The proposed new board "enables us to cut through the red tape, to cut through the political obstacles and sell the properties much more quickly," he said.

CNN's Tom Cohen contributed to this story.