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Government Agencies Could Sublease Unused Property Under New Bill

Federal agencies often sit on unused or underutilized buildings or land. Often, agencies cannot set the property if it is part of a larger campus. Now, new legislation would cut some of the red tape and allow agencies to sublease some unused space and use the rent money for repairs and other necessities. 

The Saving Money and Repairs Through (SMART) Leasing Act (S.211) was introduced by Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), James Lankford (R-OK), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), and Josh Hawley (R-MO).    

The legislation would allow agencies to rent out unused or underutilized space, following approval from the General Services Administration (GSA). The GSA Administrator must state that the proposed lease would not harm the national interest or the agency’s mission. The rent profits would be used to pay for capital improvements and maintenance, saving taxpayer dollars. 

A similar bill (S.2793) passed the Senate in the previous Congress but was not taken up by the House.

“This commonsense, bipartisan bill will help other public and private organizations make productive use of underutilized government property, and at the same time help federal agencies improve their facilities and reduce costs,” said Senator Peters in September 2021 announcing the original legislation. 

The legislation creates a pilot program for agencies to sublease both underutilized, non-excess real property and related personal property. The property would be rented at fair market value to another federal government agency, state and local government agencies, or to the private sector. The program is modeled after a similar one at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that proved successful.

The bill limits the number of leases to six per year through 2024. GSA would then advise whether the program should be extended or expanded.

Senators point out the land and buildings could be rented for all sorts of approved entities, including solar fields.

Senator Lankford, Senator Peters, Senator Sinema, Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) put forth similar legislation to give Customs and Border Protection (CBP) more clearance to fix ports of entry in the United States. The legislation (S.243) would allow CBP to make the repairs without approval from GSA for any project under $300,000, freeing GSA to spend more time on major projects.

“Bureaucratic red tape has blocked CBP from making those simple fixes to increase border security and better manage trade,” said Senator Lankford.

The issue of excess and underused properties has been vexing the federal government for years.

In 2010, the Obama administration identified 14,000 excess federal buildings and 55,000 under or unused ones.  That lead to the 2016 Federal Assets Sale and Transfer Act (FASTA), which required the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and GSA to create a database on excess property inventory. It also led to the creation of the Public Buildings Reform Board, which was tasked with reducing the government’s property inventory.