Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A few facts for those who think we can't have a limited government. . . .

. . . because I persist in believing that they don't have the slightest idea just how bloated the leviathan has become.

First, think about Federal lands. East of Denver the US government owns less than 2% of the land. West of Denver the Federal government owns an astounding 65% of it. Break that down by states, and you find that the Feds own 98% of Alaska, 86% of Nevada, 65% of Idaho.

Exactly how much land is that? Nobody knows. That's right--not even the Feds themselves, because--as MAPPS (the Management Association of Private Photogrammetic Surveyors--points out in a recent position paper:

How much land does the Federal Government own? Congress can have a healthy debate over whether the
government’s real property portfolio is too large or too small, but the answer to the above question is – we
really don’t know.

In December 2006, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported the Federal government failed its
audit for FY 2006. GAO has repeatedly (108th, 109th, 110th Congresses) designated Federal Real Property Asset
Management one of the high-risk areas within the Federal government most prone to waste, fraud and abuse.
One of the reasons cited by GAO is the fact that the government does not have a current, accurate inventory of
the land it owns. The General Services Administration (GSA) collects data from at least 30 Federal agencies,
but its system has been criticized by GAO for being “unreliable and of limited usefulness” and “not current or

Representatives Chris Cannon (R-UT) and Ron Kind (D-WI) have repeatedly introduced legislation called FLAIR (Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform Act) since 2005, without success. Cannon argues that we need an updated database because

The federal government owns an estimated 670 million acres of land, almost one-third of all land in America. The key word here is “estimated”. The fact is, we really don’t know. To make matters worse, not only do we not know what the federal government owns, we also don’t know what all the federal land is being used for, where its boundaries are located, or whether it is being put to its best use.

Let's try that number again: 670,000,000 acres out of 2,263,960,000 total, or about 29.6% of all land in the United States.

Don't get me wrong: there are often good reasons for the holding of public land--but tell me, did you really know that the government owned between one-fourth and one-third of all the land in the country?

Next, consider Federal buildings.

According to the General Accounting Office, the US Government owns approximately 1,700 Federal buildings, or:

. . . an average of 34 Federal buildings per state . . .

Many of these buildings are in such poor shape that the GAO estimated nearly a decade ago that, despite receiving an average yearly repair budget of $606 million, it would require at least an additional $4 Billion to conduct backlogged repairs that threaten the health and safety of workers, customers, and visitors to these facilities. I cannot find more recent figures, but a glance at recent Federal budgets verifies that this $4B was never allocated, leading me to believe that the number of needed repairs have probably increased significantly.

The GAO reports are filled with unintentional irony. As Federal buildings become too decrepit for some agencies to remain, they move out into more costly leased space in privately owned buildings, leaving the GAO to argue before Congress for additional repair funds, not to bring back the government agencies that have fled, but to attract private lessees in order to generate more income for the upkeep of the buildings, because, after all:

Unlike a private sector company, GSA cannot always dispose of a building simply because it would be economically advantageous to do so.

Which may, after all, be the most significant sentence in the various reports.

Finally (at least for tonight), consider American military bases and buildings at home and abroad.

(Note: this map was generated in 2003, prior to the beginning of construction of at least twelve major, permanent bases in Iraq.)

According to the Pentagon,

The Department of Defense remains one of the world’s largest “landlords” with a physical plant consisting of more than 571,200 facilities (buildings, structures and utilities) located on more than 3,700 sites, on nearly 30 million acres.

DOD admits to 766 bases overseas in forty foreign countries, including more than 50,000 "buildings, structures, and utilities" on other nations' soil.

Careful researchers like Chalmers Johnson point out that these estimates are in fact way too low, as they ignore (a) facilities with a total worth of less than $10 million; (b) bases considered transient or temporary that nonetheless exist for multiple years; (c) US buildings and structures owned with foreign military bases; (d) bases officially owned by the State Department or the CIA but utilized by the military; and (e) bases that the military has determined to have operational security requirements that prohibit releasing information.

For example, the Pentagon figures omit several thousand National Guard and Reserve component armories around the country because their individual building value doesn't necessarily reach $10 million, as well as all bases in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Israel, Kosovo, Kyrghizistan, and Macedonia.

So let's recap the Federal Government's holdings in just three areas:

Land: 670,000,000 acres (we think, but even the government doesn't know for sure)

Federal buildings: 1,700 (most decaying, many being deserted by government agencies, and now being leased to the private sector instead of being liquidated)

Military bases: 3,700 (including 766 in other countries) with nearly 600,000 "buildings, structures and utilities" spread between them. (That means, by the way, that the US military owns roughly one building for every three troops.)

And I thought I needed to clean out the garage. . . .


Anonymous said...

Mongolia is looking better and better. No military bases, no terrorism.

Christine Smith said...

Excellent post--this is the info we need to emphasize - so many Americans are unaware.