Nearly 40 Kentucky properties make federal surplus list

WASHINGTON — Old dorms in the Daniel Boone National Forest, roads and bridges near Abraham Lincoln's birthplace and unused space at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant made the list of 12,000 buildings, pieces of land and other property nationwide that the federal government wants to get rid of.

The Obama administration recently asked Congress to set up a special commission that would make it easier to get rid of those surplus federal properties, including 39 in Kentucky. The White House would like to set up a nonpartisan panel resembling those at closed military bases, a move federal officials say would cut red tape and other impediments to disposing of surplus property.

The government "doesn't need all this property," said Jeffrey Zients, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. He called it a major opportunity to downsize the footprint of the federal government.

The concept is something akin to when Gov. Steve Beshear announced the eBay auction of a twin-engine 1975 Piper Navajo and a single-engine 1967 Cessna Skyhawk earlier last month.

The White House said it would see savings of as much as $15 billion by no longer having to maintain or pay for utilities at some of the underused or unused facilities. The government in 2009 reported spending $134 million to maintain buildings that have been declared excess. It costs an estimated $1.3 billion a year to maintain federal buildings that aren't yet declared surplus but that go underused.

But it's unclear whether there's much value in getting rid of some of the properties on the list, such as a 14-square-foot building that even staffers had trouble locating at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in western Kentucky.

"We don't have anything that fits those descriptions for sale," said Kathryn Harper, spokeswoman for the park.

Some of the properties on the list have interesting histories. Land where the dorms in Daniel Boone National Forest are located once served as a camp for workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Great Depression work program.

It's also unclear whether this move would result in much savings. The list ranges from empty lots and unused roads to empty warehouses and office buildings.

"Most of these assets have little or no market value," Zients said.

The Obama administration proposed a surplus property commission earlier this year as part of his fiscal 2012 budget plan, and officials provided specific legislative language for the first time last week.

The legislation would establish a presidentially appointed, seven-member Civilian Property Realignment Board to evaluate the surplus. The commission's recommendations to reduce the real estate inventory would be voted up or down by Congress. No changes would be allowed to the board's proposal.

The property board wouldn't handle military or national security sites, national parks or wildlife refuges.

Obama administration officials said their proposed bill, which needs congressional approval, is the first of its kind covering non-military surplus properties.