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The New Privatization
The US Government Needs a Yard Sale

There’s a quick, non-partisan way the US government could save taxpayers billions of dollars, and nobody’s talking about it. Alex Tabarrok points out a piece on NPR about empty government-owned buildings whose upkeep is paid for by all of us:

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.

As Tabarrok notes, if anything, the NPR piece understates the severity of the problem, because it’s only counting buildings. But the federal government also owns tons of land that it could very easily raise hundreds of billions of dollars if sold. This strategy is not only available to the US either—governments around the world strapped for cash could make use of this. However bad our debt problem may look to us right now, the US has the resources in reserve to reduce it anytime it wants to. Perhaps that time is now.

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  • Corlyss

    You have only to review the GSA rules for excessing and disposing of real property to know a major reason why the government seldom divests of real property. Naturally these rules are all rooted in some long forgotten laws that Congress can’t bring itself to revise.

    • Bruce

      They wouldn’t dispose of it even if it was easy. The number one purpose of politicians and bureaucrats is to grow government, never shrink it and grow the bureaucracy. Larger government means larger staff, more promotions etc. It is going to take a calamity and implosion to correct this. Vote Republican? As the Republican bumper sticker says, “We waste a little less.”

      • Corlyss

        Were/are you a M*A*S*H fan?
        My career was spent in the general category of logistics. There was a great episode near and dear to my heart, when Wayne Rogers was still in the cast, having to do with the lads’ efforts to obtain an incubator to do their own bacterial cultures and reduce diagnosis time. Their requisition got them a fatuous QM captain, who told them that they were entitled to a pizza oven, but not an incubator. So they went up or down the supply chain till they got to a sergeant with 3 incubators. They asked for one. The sergeant refused. When asked why he couldn’t spare even one, and his answer was classic: “Because then I’ll have only two.” That sums up the owner’s [Government’s] attitude perfectly.

  • Boritz

    They will follow one of two courses: Do nothing or deed it all as a gift to ACORN.

    • Jim__L

      They’ve sold Hangar One in Silicon Valley to Google, for far less than the land is worth.

      Look for them to cut more sweetheart deals with their political allies. There should be some juicy scandals in it.

  • jbspry

    We all know damned good and well that if the government sold such assets the proceeds would not be applied to the national debt but be spent on expanded entitlements, thus creating even greater expectations on the part of the recipients for those expenditures to go on forever.

    A horrible idea.

  • Kafir

    I read there was a law that they couldn’t sell a building unless it had been remediated for asbestos so there goes the savings. They should just knock them down and sell the land.

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