Excess buildings • Savings would help pay off the national debt.
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Washington • A warehouse sits empty in Provo. A house unused in Beaver. An office unneeded in Nephi.
The White House forwarded a proposal to Congress on Wednesday that seeks to speed the sale of these forgotten buildings or cut through the bureaucratic steps that have delayed their demolition. The money saved would be split with at least 60 percent going toward paying off the national debt and the rest covering moving expenses and office reorganization costs.
"The government doesn't need all of this property," said Jeffrey Zients, the U.S. chief performance officer. "There are big opportunities to downsize the government's footprint that we need to go after."
The administration has initially identified 12,000 excess properties in the United States, and 147 of them are in Utah. The Beehive State properties are almost exclusively on Forest Service land and, when added together, account for more than 107,000 square feet of building space. The list, culled using 2009 data, includes 18 homes on Forest Service land, seven offices and eight vacant warehouses.
Most of the properties have little to no market value. Many already have been sold. Forest Service officials in Utah say the White House list contains five houses in Ashley National Forest that have already been auctioned.
Joanna Wilson, a spokeswoman for the regional Forest Service office, said many homes once used for seasonal employees or forest rangers needed significant repairs.
"Generally they are older homes," she said. "They don't meet code, and it is a huge expense for us to get them to that point."
The government seeks either to tear them down or give away property with no market value, saving money by reducing the energy and maintenance costs.
Zients estimates that it takes one to three years for the government to unload a property it doesn't want, which the Obama administration considers too long. It hopes Congress will create a board similar to the one that decides which military installations to close, which will help avoid bureaucratic obstacles, financial costs of moving and the political interests of local officials.
He said the government is on track to save $3 billion this year and $15 billion in the next three years, a goal set by the president.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, wants to go even further. He has introduced a bill that would force the government to sell $19 billion in unneeded buildings. He also wants at least 80 percent of the proceeds to go to the debt.
"Government property that serves no public good should be immediately returned to private ownership," Chaffetz said when introducing his bill in mid-February.
The White House has released a list of federal properties that agencies no longer need. The list includes 12,000 properties nationwide. Here are the numbers for Utah:
147 parcels, almost all of which are on Forest Service land
107,063 total square feet
18 family homes
Source: White House, fiscal year 2009 report