Scaling Back Government Waste

Erika Johnsen
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Posted: May 17, 2011 5:23 PM

As I’ve mentioned before, the federal government is the largest landowner in the United States, controlling almost one-third of the country’s surface area. The government’s indiscriminate land-grabbing contributes to both our national deficit and environmental degradation, but shockingly, it seems as if the White House may have actually picked up on this fact. On May 4, the Obama administration asked that Congress form a commission to help sell or demolish more than 12,000 government-owned and -leased properties (although, it is rather telling that we now have to form a government commission before we can cut down on the size of the government). Hoping to use the one-time cash bonus to both reduce the federal deficit and pay for other government facilities, the White House even put together an interactive map, “Cutting Costs by Getting Rid of Buildings We Don't Need,” that provides examples of properties not put to any productive use.

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Administration officials projected that the plan would save as much as $15 billion over three years, which would make only an infinitesimal dent in our almost $1.4 trillion deficit; there are plenty of regulatory laws in place that make it a major headache to sell government land; and many federal agencies cannot even afford the short-term costs of selling the properties. Nevertheless, the move relates an important concept and is more or less the first scheme of President Obama’s that has ever made me feel the least bit hopeful.

By selling off government properties and releasing them to the production and stewardship of the private sector, the properties are transformed from public liabilities to private assets. Even if he does not think so, President Obama is illustrating the vast amount of neglect, waste, and deterioration engendered by an intrusive, distended bureaucracy. Now, if only we could get him to feel the same way about the entire federal budget!