Following a House subcommittee hearing Wednesday intended to assess whether a BRAC-like process could help the federal government eliminate thousands of excess properties and save taxpayers billions of dollars, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), chairman of the panel, said he would move ahead with plans to introduce legislation authorizing the government to establish a civilian BRAC commission.

“I am glad that the Office of Management and Budget agrees with my goals for a civilian BRAC commission and I look forward to working with the administration to move a bill through Congress to save billions of taxpayer dollars,” said Denham, chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Denham added that he was pleased the Obama administration had agreed to each of the five principles he believed should guide the bipartisan legislation. Those principles include: working to maximize return to the taxpayer, maximizing space utilization, reducing the reliance on costly leasing, creating value in underperforming assets and improving the overall management and controls related to federal properties.

At the hearing, Daniel Werfel, controller for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), supported Denham’s goals, while adding energy efficiency as a critical consideration, the chairman noted.

Much of the discussion at the hearing revolved around OMB’s role in any newly created process for consolidating and realigning federal real estate. Denham and Ranking Member Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) raised questions about OMB’s expertise in real estate and indicated that any legislation moving forward should require the agency to hire or consult with real estate experts, such as those from the General Services Administration or other federal agencies.

Under the administration’s proposal, the civilian BRAC commission’s recommendations first would go to OMB for vetting before going to the President for review; at that point, the recommendations would go to Congress for final approval. Denham and Norton both expressed doubts that OMB was qualified to handle such a role. Werfel told the panel that OMB will share a more detailed version of its proposal with the subcommittee later this month.

The White House included the proposal to create a Civilian Property Realignment Board in its fiscal 2012 budget request. The independent board would be composed of presidential appointees who would vote on recommendations to expedite the disposal of up to 14,000 unneeded federal buildings.

Anthony Principi, chairman of the 2005 BRAC Commission, recommended the subcommittee apply lessons from base closure to a civilian version. Principi recommended that the civilian BRAC board be composed of five appointees from the president, with two additional appointees from each party, for a total of nine members. He also suggested that the commission adopt an effective accounting tool to estimate costs and savings, and that the Government Accountability Office be involved in the process.

In one of the more telling moments of the hearing, Principi declined after Denham asked him if he would be interested in heading a civilian BRAC panel. The chairman indicated he was joking, but there’s a good chance he was secretly disappointed Principi didn’t jump at the opportunity.
To view a video of the hearing and to read the witnesses’ written testimony, visit the subcommittee’s website.