The VA faces special challenges in disposing of obsolete buildings simply because many of them are so old that they have historic value, GAO has said.
The report was the latest of many on the government’s long-standing problem related to the costs of maintaining under-used or unused properties and its difficulties in demolishing or selling them or transferring them to other federal or state agencies or to entities such as nonprofits.
GAO said that of the 471 buildings the VA disposed of in 2012-2017, 202 had historic status–either listed on the National Register of Historic Places or designated as national historic landmarks. For disposals requiring historic review, those reviews took five years on average, it said.
Under the National Historic Preservation Act, the VA must “manage historic properties and take into account the effects of its actions on them and seek ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects”; and consult with the Advisory Council on Historic Properties and other stakeholders, before undertaking actions such as demolitions, sales, or construction. Further, “Historic properties have different designations which may require different preservation considerations, documentations, and mitigation efforts.”
Required environmental reviews were another factor cited by GAO; those take two years on average and apply even to properties without historic value. Common issues in VA’s aged buildings include asbestos and lead paint, it said.