Thousands of Costly Federal Buildings Lie Unused — And Problem Could Be Worse Than We Thought

More than 14,000 buildings and structures may lie unused or underutilized.

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For years, media reports have warned that taxpayers pay millions of dollars to help the government maintain thousands of unused or underused federal buildings.

But how many buildings? And how many dollars?

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A 2010 map by the White House estimated that about 14,000 buildings and structures are "excess," or no longer needed, and that taxpayers pay $190 million to maintain them. Most of these assets, the White House promised, would soon be demolished, transferred or sold.

And some of them already have, as the Office and Management and Budget proudly reported in May.

But the office of Florida Republican Rep. John Mica, who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, tells Whispers the problem may be much worse than the White House ever estimated.

The 14,000 number, committee spokesman Justin Harclerode said, mostly represents low-value structures the government has already decided to get rid of.

It doesn't take into account properties the government hasn't decided what it wants to do with, or properties that are underutilized.

The most high-profile example: the Old Post Office building in Washington, which is partially occupied but mostly empty, including a rear annex that lies in disrepair.

The building was never included on the government "excess" buildings list, despite costing taxpayers $6.5 million every year, according to Congressman Mica.

In February, the General Services Administration (GSA), which is in charge of the Old Post Office Building and many others, finally selected Donald Trump to redevelop it into a luxury hotel. But many other properties will continue to be underutilized or empty and uncounted, says Harclerode.

The Cotton Annex, an 89,000 square foot building just a block from the National Mall, has been empty for five years, but has not been deemed "excess" by GSA.

A number of redevelopment proposals have been considered for the Cotton Annex, but GSA has not acted on them, insisting the building is still a money-maker, according to a March hearing held inside the vacant property.

A request for comment from GSA was not immediately returned.

"We sit on these assets for years—sometimes something finally happens, sometimes not," Harclerode adds. "We need to do better."

Update, 4:13 p.m.:

GSA referred request for comment to the OMB.

Moira Mack, OMB spokeswoman said, "The president is committed to getting the properties we don't need off our books and has called on Congress to pass the Civilian Property Reform Act to expedite such sales -- including the many properties that are never surfaced for sale because of red tape and politics." 

Mack also said the administration has already saved more than $5 billion in civilian and military real estate costs since 2010, and believes it will save more than $8 billion by the end of this year.

See the White House excess buildings map below: 

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at eflock@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.