Feds target Arizona properties for surplus sell-off
As if Arizona didn’t have enough surplus property, the federal government said it wants to add more.
The Obama administration last week announced 2,311 federal properties – including 94 in Arizona – that it has deemed “excess,” or not worth their value.
The announcement is part of an initiative launched last year to cut government waste. It brings the total tally of federal excess property in Arizona to 256, the 10th-most among states, and to nearly 14,000 nationwide.
While the White House has touted the $10 million sale of a New York warehouse and the $12 million sale of a Maryland office building, nearly half the Arizona properties are in national parks and forests and are therefore not for sale.
The properties in the state range from an office building in Tucson, which has already been repurposed for federal use, to a parking lot at the Grand Canyon whose fate has yet to be determined. Dozens of utility systems, warehouses and housing properties are also included.
Of the 256 Arizona properties, the federal government has disposed of 110 so far, including 27 in the past year, through sales, demolitions or other efforts.
If all the properties on the national list were to be disposed, the federal government would save an estimated $3.5 billion, according to a White House news release. Federal agencies have disposed of $1.5 billion in excess property so far.
Advocates against government waste see the move as a step in the right direction. But they said they do not foresee significant gains because government properties have to go through a drawn-out process before they can get to sale.
“It’s helpful that the administration is looking at this and they’ve put something together,” said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste. “It would be even more helpful if the legislation that was just approved by the (House Transportation and Infrastructure) committee really goes through and gets signed.”
That legislation would streamline the process under which excess properties can be put for sale.
In national parks, the government will reduce unnecessary maintenance costs largely by demolishing unused buildings, said David Barna, chief spokesman for the National Park Service. As long as they’re standing, they show up on the “maintenance backlog” and are considered in the budget even if they are abandoned, he said.
“It’s not a matter of making real estate or buildings necessarily for sale to the public,” Barna said. “It’s really a matter of saying these buildings are no longer needed or being used and it’s really better off taking them down.”
Even so, the National Park Service receives calls from people interested in buying the parkland that they mistakenly think is for sale, Barna said.
U.S. Forest Service has 98 excess properties on the list in Arizona – the most of any federal agency in the state – including 17 that were identified in the last year. Since 2010, the service has only disposed of one property in the state.
The Forest Service gets the same confused callers as the National Park Service – “either (real estate) developers or people that were concerned that national forest system lands were being sold,” said Cathie Schmidlin, a spokeswoman for the Forest Service. “And that’s just not the case.”