Last Wednesday, March 12, 2014, National Public Radio's Laura Sullivan reported (HT Erika Johnsen, Hot Air):
"Government estimates suggest there may be 77,000 empty or underutilized buildings across the country. Taxpayers own them, and even vacant, they're expensive. The Office of Management and Budget says these buildings could be costing taxpayers $1.7 billion a year.
"That's because someone has to mow the lawns, keep the pipes from freezing, maintain security fences, pay for some basic power — even when the buildings are just sitting empty."
According to Sullivan, one of the problems is that:
"But doing something with these buildings is a complicated job, partly because the federal government does not know what it owns.
" . . . the only known centralized database that the government has, the Federal Real Property Profile, and it's not reliable, he says.
"We'd see a building that maybe looked something like this, and the data would say it was 100 percent utilized, and we'd look around and see nobody," he says. "We'd go to other buildings, and [the list would] say it was unutilized, and we'd find that the building was overcrowded."
"Some buildings listed as being in great shape had trees growing through the roofs. And many buildings weren't even on the list."
Ms. Sullivan writes there is one member of Congress trying to do something about this, writing:
"Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, is one of the lawmakers pushing to get a clearer picture.
"We don't know how many properties we have, we don't know which ones we own, which ones are leased," he says. "We don't know whether we ought to be building or buying instead of leasing."
"But Carper says that even when an agency knows it has a building it would like to sell, bureaucratic hurdles limit what it can do. No federal agency can sell anything unless it's uncontaminated, asbestos-free and environmentally safe. Those are expensive fixes.
"Then the agency has to make sure another one doesn't want it. Then state and local governments get a crack at it, then nonprofits — and finally, a 25-year-old law requires the government to see whether it could be used as a homeless shelter.
"Many agencies just lock the doors and say forget it."
At the Washington Post's new blog, Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin provides much of the same NOR background as above, and then cites the Marginal Revolution blog, noting, "Economist Alex Tabarrok points out that the NPR article actually understates the extent of the problem." Somin explains:
"The whole situation is an unintended lesson in the advantages of private property rights. If a private owner has a piece of unused property, he or she has strong incentives to find some valuable use for it. If he can’t, he has a strong incentive to sell it to someone else who can do better. In both cases, he gets to keep the profit. For that reason, he also has incentives to keep track of the property he owns, and avoid imposing burdensome bureaucratic procedures that make it difficult to sell unused land.
"By contrast, government officials get little or no reward for finding better uses for underutilized government land. Indeed, a conscientious bureaucrat who tries to do so may just end up annoying his colleagues and superiors, for whom it means extra hassle with little chance of any gain. For similar reasons, government agencies sometimes have little incentive to even keep track of the land they own, or to make it easy to sell unneeded property."
In conclusion, Ilya Somin writes, "Some government ownership of land may be an unavoidable necessity. But we would be better off if a substantial part of the federal government’s vast landholdings were privatized."
Oh, note the first building in the NPR article. It's a "132-year-old brick structure is sitting on prime real estate six blocks from the White House. It was once a school, but it's been vacant for almost three decades."
So let me get this straight. The federal government reportedly owns or controls 77,000 buildings that could be costing American taxpayers as much as $1.7 billion. Yet some members of Congress and the President believe the federal government is capable of managing 1/6th of the U.S. economy, i.e., through ObamaCare. Amazing! Absolutely amazing! Talk about hubris or Thomas Sowell's Vision of the Anointed? Or to quote F.A. Hayek (from ThinkExist.com)::
“To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm.”