Bureaucratic Slumlords

The federal government, it seems, is not simply a questionable park owner. It’s also a terrible landlord. More than half of its 1,682 buildings are in dire need of repairs, some requiring more than $20 million of work to comply with safety standards. What’s more, the problem isn’t new. According to a General Accounting Office report released in April, the federal government’s property management agency has failed to repair many building problems that were identified almost a decade ago and have undoubtedly gotten worse–and more expensive to fix–over time.

Why? There are more repairs than the agency has money to fund, despite spending an average of $580 million on improvements each year. At the end of 1999, there was still about $4 billion of work left to be done. Plus, the property management agency’s computer files on repair status are a mess.

The feds have a new strategy, though, borrowed from the private sector: They’ll give repair priority to those buildings that would yield the highest rent, thus giving the fund more money to fix additional buildings.

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