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May 4, 2011 at 12:31 PM

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Obama seeks to accelerate sales of surplus real estate

Posted by Kyung M. Song

WASHINGTON --The real estate market may be in a slump, but few sellers have it tougher than the federal government.

The nation's biggest property owner, the U.S. government has 14,000 office buildings, warehouses and other properties that have officially been deemed unneeded. Yet speedy disposal historically has been stymied by layers of red tape, political interference and bureaucratic inertia (not to mention the dread of packing and moving).

On Wednesday, the Obama administration proposed creating an independent commission to streamline the process of physically downsizing the federal government. The legislation is meant to help reach the White House target of saving $15 billion over three years by selling, consolidating or closing excess holdings from the government's inventory of more than 1 million properties.

Several hundred of the surplus properties are located in Washington state, including a 75,000-square foot Justice Department building just east of Qwest Field. Many of the properties are inside national parks operated by the Interior Department.

For instance, on the list are a dozen buildings at Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and two dozen family housing and warehouses within Olympic National Park.

Jeffrey Zients, deputy director of Office of Management and Budget, noted that sale of federal properties are subject to 20 different laws. What's more, even when agencies seek to dump properties, Zients said they can get deterred by short-term costs such as moving expenses.

"Getting rid of properties is a much less rewarding experience," Zients said.

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