Probably the most frustrating thing about our budget debacle is that actual waste, fraud and abuse seem to be much harder to root out than useful or necessary spending. We’re closing airport towers and cutting off research funds. But the tens of billions in waste OMB identifies every year goes untouched. The tens of billions first President Bush and then President Obama identified goes untouched. The tens of billions that Tom Coburn identifies goes untouched.
The federal government owns or leases between 55,000 and 77,000 vacant properties. But it’s impossible to tell exactly how many. No precise inventory has been kept.
Selling them off, though, could save taxpayers between $3 billion and $8 billion a year, according to various analysts. That’s nothing to scoff at as the government grapples with a mounting debt and sequester-tied spending cuts.
“These properties could be used first to consolidate agencies that now are in leased buildings,” D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton told Fox News.
Tom Schatz, of Citizens Against Government Waste said: “This is a problem that has been identified for years, and every time someone in the White House says ‘let’s sell property,’ the red tape is simply too much for this process.”
Now I’m sure that Paul Krugman or someone will write an article about how all these empty expenses stimulate the economy or keep the real estate market from collapsing. I don’t buy it. This is very close to the Keynesian Platonic Ideal of paying people to dig holes and fill them back up again. That real estate — some in prime locations — could be of much better use.
Here’s a suggestion. The federal government has massively expanded over the last decade, building entire cities of new office buildings to house the security state and the apparatus connected with Obamacare. Congress can simply pass a moratorium on new construction for federal agencies. All agencies will be required to renovate and use old building before building new ones (unless there is a very good reason old buildings may not be suitable, such as working with Ebola).