How The West Was Won – By The Feds

Well sometimes feels like we never won it when so much of our land and resources are under the direct control of the U.S. government and tribal authorities. If you take a look at the American “west”, you will see a very big difference from the other half of the country in terms of land owned by the government and land that is “free” to own by the public.

The federal government owns approximately 29% of the land area in the United States, more than 653 million acres. The U.S. General Services Administration’s report on Federal Real Property Profile, 2004 shows how much land the government owns in each state. The top 10 federally owned states:

  • Nevada 85%
  • Alaska 69%
  • Utah 57%
  • Oregon 53%
  • Idaho 50%
  • Arizona 48%
  • California 45%
  • Wyoming 42%
  • New Mexico 42%
  • Colorado 37%

Out of the top 10 states (all are in the American “west”), the federal government owns 505 million acres or 77% of the total land area owned in the United States by the federal government.

The White House acknowledges the fact that not only is the United States government the largest property owner in the country, but also a major source of government waste because of this fact. Efforts to make much of this property available to the public for purchase have been minimal. The White House Federal Excess Properties site shows the federal government’s effort in selling off properties.

The Federal Government is the biggest property owner in the United States, and billions of taxpayer dollars are wasted each year on government properties that are no longer needed. The President has proposed an independent Civilian Property Realignment Board to help the Federal Government cut through red tape and competing stakeholder interests to sell or get rid of property it no longer needs. Over time, this could save taxpayers billions of dollars and help to reduce the deficit.

This map shows just the tip of the iceberg in terms of opportunities for downsizing the Federal real estate portfolio. Under the President’s proposal, more properties, in some cases with significant market value, would be added to this map and dealt with more quickly and effectively than they are today.

President Obama and Vice President Biden launched the Campaign to Cut Waste to eliminate misspent tax dollars in every agency and department across the Federal Government. Getting properties like those highlighted below off our books is a key first step in this effort.

The Civilian Property Realignment Board was cancelled by congress and a very painful and slow process for eliminating this waste is still in place.

Before any agency sells a surplus property, it is required by federal law to ensure that no other U.S. agency wants it. It must then offer a right of first refusal to state and local governments as well as nonprofits. Buildings must be assessed as potential homeless shelters and reviewed for environmental contamination and historic significance.

All of these federally owned properties have the potential to be transferred to state/local governments or to private interests. Benefits could include:

  • less government waste of resources and taxpayer dollars
  • increased efficiency of remaining federal properties
  • greater use of agriculture, energy and natural resources for private use

The bipartisan Federal Real Property Asset Management Reform Act of 2013 is intended to expedite the sale of federal property that is underutilized. A greater effort in this direction is very obvious and needed.

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