Owned by the Feds

Property confusion


Most people are not aware that the federal government owns 65 percent of the land in the contiguous United States. It turns out that the government isn't totally aware of this either. A recent study by the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit organization that publishes reason, found that the federal government doesn't keep track of its land, let alone put it to efficient use.

According to Peter Orszag, former director of the Office of Management and Budget, in addition to about 14,000 buildings that federal agencies have already conceded they don't need any more, there are at least 55,000 more that are either underutilized or not used at all. Since the indexing of property is often left to individual agencies, there is no accurate, comprehensive federal database of government-owned property. The Reason study, written by Anthony Randazzo and John Palatiello, revealed that the amount of unused holdings owned by the government is much greater than previously estimated: Selling them could raise more than $1.2 trillion and put a sizable dent in the federal debt.

On June 10, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum calling for federal agencies to save money by selling excess property, earning the president praise from one of the study's authors. "Federal officials need to follow President Obama's lead," says Randazzo, "and identify what the federal government owns, determine whether government or private ownership is the most effective use of that property, and then reduce costs by selling or leasing underused and unneeded property."