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Coburn blames law to help homeless for slowing sales of federal property

Coburn blames law for slowing sales of federal property. At a Senate hearing, homeless advocate says law isn't the main problem.
BY CHRIS CASTEEL Published: June 10, 2011

Sen. Tom Coburn sparred Thursday with an advocate for the homeless over problems with getting rid of surplus federal buildings.

At a Senate hearing, Coburn, R-Muskogee, said a federal law that gives local homeless agencies a chance to acquire unneeded federal buildings has created a backlog of properties that cost billions of dollars to maintain.

Coburn told Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, that the group had prevented the federal government from disposing of excess property and blocked his earlier efforts to change the process.

“I guess I should be flattered,” Foscarinis said.

“You're very effective,” Coburn said.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress, says the federal government has 45,000 “underutilized” properties that cost nearly $1.7 billion a year to operate. The White House says there are 76,000 underutilized buildings and 14,000 that have been designated as unneeded.

President Barack Obama wants to create an independent commission, using the base closure commission as a model, to identify excess property and make recommendations on how best to get rid of it quickly. Congress would have to accept or reject the entire list and couldn't make changes.

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