By Alister Bull
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Wednesday proposed a plan to save billions of taxpayer dollars by creating an independent board to speed up the sale of thousands of unneeded federal properties at home and abroad.
President Barack Obama previewed the plan in his 2012 budget and State of the Union Address as part of his efforts to trim government waste and curb a budget deficit projected to reach $1.645 trillion this fiscal year.
The board, made up of experts drawn from the private and public sector, would make recommendations to Congress on 14,000 properties already identified as excess to requirements.
The White House says it expects the board, whose creation requires the approval of Congress, would save $15 billion in the first 3 years of its operation.
"The proposed civilian property realignment board will finally bring 21st century management practices to federal real estate," White House deputy budget director Jeffrey Zients told reporters.
Democrat Obama is under intense pressure to cut government spending by Republicans, who won big in November elections after campaigning for smaller government, and want to make the 2012 presidential race a referendum on his fiscal record.
Zients said the government spends $20 billion a year to run and maintain its 1.2 million properties, and that a further 55,000 properties have been identified as under-utilized, on top of those deemed as unneeded, pointing to even more potential savings in the future.
The proposed board, drawing on the experience of the Defense Department's base realignment and closure program, would make recommendations to Congress on bundles of properties.
Properties on the auction block will include a warehouse in Brooklyn empty for 10 years, and five buildings on a sprawling site in Fort Worth, Texas, that have been used to store records for the National Archives but now stand vacant.
Several thousand are overseas and the rest are spread across the United States, ranging from downtown city office blocks to modest warehouses located deep in rural America.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)