Government waste adds up: 45,000 empty government-owned buildings, $800,000 on bottled water

CLEVELAND - The Cleveland National Air Show has been scrapped. Flight controllers at Cuyahoga County Airport are facing cuts. The annual Easter egg hunt at the Garfield Mansion was canceled because of federal cutbacks or as it's better known: sequestration.

You pay more than one trillion dollars a year in taxes. So NewsChannel5 Chief Investigator Ron Regan followed your money in Washington, D.C. from federal agencies through congressional hallways.

"I like the colors on the walls, I like the furniture. This is fine for the office I want, but they said no. You can't keep the furniture," said Rep. Jim Renacci.

It's all at taxpayer expense. Our Five On Your Side investigation found there is so much waste that it piles up in warehouses you pay to store and guard 24 hours a day until auctioned off.

[U.S. House of Representatives spending database:]
[Sunlight Foundation Congressional expenditure reports database:]

That's just the beginning. We found entire taxpayer-owned buildings sitting empty for years.

"We know that's there's significant amount of American taxpayer money that's either going to maintain buildings that aren't being used or that we would give back leases and get government offices into owned space," said Davie Wise, a director at the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

More than 45,000 government-owned buildings are empty or half empty, according to the office of management and budget. But Wise admitted even the government doesn't really know how many it owns and you continue to pay for upkeep.

(Click the map below for an interactive guide to excess government properties. Mobile user click here:

"It costs about a billion dollars a year," Weiss said. That's $1.6 billion a year spent on buildings like one in pricey Georgetown that was empty for 10 years. There's another building just blocks from the Capitol and yet another one down the street from the White House.

Then we found this: a reality television show called, "Let's Design".  It's a program produced in India that's funded with $20 million in taxes from something called the market access program.

The market access program gets $200 million a year at the Department of Agriculture that subsidizes marketing for profitable U.S. companies overseas, said Tom Schatz from Citizens Against Government Waste.

We also found a video game called "Prom Week" that teachers teens how to socialize. Taxpayers paid half a million dollars to create it through a National Science Foundation grant.

The waste doesn't stop there. After searching the halls of Congress for taxpayer waste, we found one more example where taxpayers are getting clipped not far from the Capitol rotunda. Down underground, we found the Senate barber shop.  It's getting $300,000 a year to stay in business.

Finally, don't worry about your congressional representative getting thirsty. Taxpayers spent $800,000 last year for them to drink bottled water.

The General Services Administration responded to our story by offering this statement and updates on several  properties.

"GSA is getting the best value for the taxpayers by putting unneeded government assets to new uses. We are reusing, selling and donating used office furniture and IT equipment, as well as moving unneeded real estate off of the governments books. Last year, $1.5 billion worth of supplies were reused by federal agencies across the government. Since 2010, GSA has disposed of 352 excess buildings."

Warehouses and Surplus Property:

The federal government's warehouses store items and vital records that are necessary for agencies to serve the American people. Surplus furniture and computer equipment at these sites are either reused by federal agencies, sold or donated. Last year, $1.5 billion worth of supplies were reused by federal agencies across the government.   

Surplus Real Estate Property Disposal:

GSA is moving aggressively to dispose of unneeded real estate assets and hosting auctions, requesting industry input, and offering proposed exchanges so we can shed even more excess real estate. Last year, GSA disposed of more than 100 federal properties and sales returned $37.5 million in proceeds. Since 2010, GSA has made 352 disposal transactions and eliminated more than 10,000 acres of excess land. More than 100 properties nationwide are moving forward with the disposal process. As part of the Administration's efforts, GSA has been actively working with all 24 federal landholding agencies to identify unneeded assets and move them into the disposal process.

Recent Real Estate Sales and Auctions:

Since last fall, GSA sold:

- Former NASA sight in  Fairview Park, Ohio, sold for $1.2 million;
- Department of Defense complex  in Norfolk, Virginia for $1.1 million;  
- Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Dallas for $357,500;
- Naval Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina sold for $1.95 million;
- Federal Building in Moscow, Idaho, sold for $2.4 million;

The Former USDA Cotton Annex, Washington, DC:

GSA has asked the real estate industry to submit ideas for how we can better utilize or possibly exchange a group of outdated buildings in this area in Washington. The former USDA Cotton Annex is part of this group of buildings, and this is the first step in an effort to put the facility to new use.  

The Anthony J. Celebrezze Federal Building, Cleveland:

The Anthony J. Celebrezze Federal Building in Cleveland is fully occupied and houses more than a dozen federal agencies.


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