Obama’s recent announcement that he will appoint a commission to propose and possibly oversee the closing and sale of obsolete federal buildings is yet another delaying tactic which allows Team Obama to wear the mantle of fiscal hawks, serious about cost-cutting, while delaying the need for immediate action to reduce the ever-ballooning deficit. Kicking the can down the road to delay tough decision-making is becoming President Obama’s best sport.
There are three good reasons why Americans should be skeptical of Obama’s recent proposal.
First, Americans have seen Obama use commissions to provide cover and to buy time. The recent Fiscal commission is a prime example. Taking almost a year to assemble and taking another year to analyze data and prepare their proposal, the commission bought time for the President to posture. When the Fiscal Commission did report their findings and urged immediate action, their counsel was immediately ignored by Team Obama. It would seem that the Obama has learned that the value of commissions in to provide a fig leaf for Administration failures. Americans should be concerned that should a commission produce a set of recommendations that would actually require the president to make a tough decision, that it will be ignored.
The most recent announcement from the White House to sell off unneeded or underutilized federal office buildings proposes theestablishmen of a commission modeled after the Pentagon’s Base closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC). The obvious problem is that if President Obama did not take the advice of the commission that he hand-picked, on an issue critical to our nation’s survival as a super-power, why should Americans have any confidence that Obama will act on the recommendations of a “BRAC-like” commission on federal buildings?
Second, the White House did not admit the BRAC process is expensive and closures take years to implement. Duplicating BRAC for federal buildings will require a huge staff, development of countless proposals that must be vetted through congress, and logistical planning to move or eliminate hundreds to thousands of government employees. These kinds of BRAC decisions will take longer to implement than Obama’s time in office and even longer to derive the cost-savings currently proposed by Obama.
Meantime, using the closing of federal buildings as proof of his vigorous cost-cutting administration, Obama may continue to pile up additional non-essential spending, citing the savings from the GOV-BRAC closings as his “pay-go” plan. The end result is that Americans will find that the country is even more in debt than before Obama morphed into a “fiscal hawk”.
Third, and perhaps most important, the biggest obstacle to Obama’s proposal is his own team. Democrats have long loaded “social justice” legislation into a plethora of regulations that would need to be eliminated before Obama’s proposal would have a hope of succeeding. For example, one of the biggest deterrents to disposal or re-sale of obsolete federal properties is the McKinney Act, which requires that all properties be offered as homeless shelters before the property can be auctioned for public use.
As the former Administrator of the U.S. General Services, I have some experience in the kinds of activities the President is proposing, and I can assure the citizens of this country that once a federal building is proposed as obsolete in its use and plans are developed to sell the property and return the proceeds to the Treasury, the biggest obstacle is congress.
Every federal building exists in some congressman’s district and represents assets, implicit and explicit, that accrue to that district or state. Federal building closings are often fought aggressively by the congressman or senator affected, and accusations of partisanship are often bandied. Sometimes a congressman cannot believe that closing a property in his district might be in the nation’s best interest and the Member incorrectly assumes there must be some kind of political bias afoot.
I have experienced the detrimental effects of the politically-correct posturing of Democrats in congress, where “social-justice” ideology is advanced without any thought to the actual consequences. One of the most extreme examples of the abuse of the McKinney Act in practice involved a historic coastal fort in North Carolina dating back to the French Indian War. The fort was no longer a working military base and was slated for BRAC closure.
Non-profit organizations hoped to convert the facility to a museum and were willing to purchase the property from the government to ensure future generations would have the opportunity to see where a part of our nation’s history occurred. Instead, because of the McKinney Act, the property was slated to become a homeless shelter.
Not too surprisingly, when local civic leaders discovered that federal law would require the historic fort to be converted into a homeless shelter they were aghast. Civic leaders at the state and local level wanted to make their own decision on housing and resented the big foot of the federal government forcing them to convert federal buildings to social causes like homeless shelters, against the wish of the local community.
As a result, I was forced to take the situation to Congress, appealing to congressmen and senators alike for a waiver. It came down to what was, literally, the last hour, and then-senator Elizabeth Dole was gracious enough to put her name forward and sign the waiver needed to preserve the historic property for posterity.
The key point here is that federal laws exist which hamper the orderly sale and disposition of unneeded federal property. If Obama would concentrate on removing those barriers, he would make the task much easier. Huge savings could be achieved if President Obama would implement the regulatory reform he promised. Eliminating some of the nonsensical, impractical statutes put in place by his own team would allow experienced, career government employees to act more swiftly and more effectively to trim the fat than any commission the President might eventually assemble.
The problem is Obama seems to have become most adept at the Kicking-the-Can strategy and even more adept at avoiding any kind of accountability for his decisions. Pity.