An Office of Management and Budget proposal to sell thousands of surplus federal buildings is garnering support on Capitol Hill and among industry groups. OMB says selling the properties could save the government $15 billion. Some of that amount would come from selling the excess properties. The plan could give a lift to the construction industry's buildings sector. As much 40% of the proceeds from the property sales would be plowed back into retrofitting other federal buildings to make them more energy efficient, OMB officials say.

The plan, sketched out in the Obama administration's fiscal 2012 budget, calls for a new Civilian Property Realignment Board, modeled after the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission, or BRAC.

The proposed civilian board—an independent panel composed of seven presidential appointees—would work with federal agencies to identify surplus facilities and expedite their disposal. OMB says 14,000 excess properties have been identified in the federal inventory.


Jeff Zients, OMB' deputy director for management, fleshed out the plan in a May 4 conference call with reporters. He calls the BRAC program a “proven approach” and said the civilian property board, if Congress approves it, would operate like the BRAC panels, cutting through financial and political barriers to sell or close surplus buildings.

One key House member seems to be on the same page. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee that oversees public buildings, introduced a bill on May 5 that adopts many of the principles in the administration's proposal. “I believe the potential to save billions of dollars is real,” Denham said.

Moira Mack, an OMB spokeswoman, says, “We believe there is significant common ground between the president's proposal and this House bill, and we look forward to working with Chairman Denham, Committee Chairman [John] Mica [R-Fla.] and other members of Congress—from both sides of the aisle—to cut through the red tape and politics to achieve billions in savings for the American people.”

Brad Penney, the Alliance to Save Energy's government relations director, says that while his group has not taken a position on the president's proposal or Denham's bill, “the concept of selling or redeveloping federal assets that are not being utilized and taking some of the operating savings and putting that into the efficiency of the federal inventory of buildings, we think is a very good idea.”

Marco Giamberardino, the senior director of federal and heavy construction at the Associated General Contractors of America, sees enormous opportunities for contractors to retrofit not only the buildings the government wants to keep but also the buildings it wants to put up for sale.

Says Giamberardino, “The issue is, if you have properties that have not been upgraded for a long time, they are not going to have a lot of value. So it is incumbent on this commission to ensure that the funding is there” for retrofits.