- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sorting through trash in search of treasure in your grandparents’ dusty attic can be fun, but when a hoarding habit costs taxpayers money, it’s time to bring in the housekeeper.

A new audit from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found the agency is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars each year to lease warehouse space to store old office furniture and obsolete computers that are worth less than the space they are piled up in.

According to the report, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) leases a 54,000-square-foot warehouse in Northern Virginia for about $934,000 per year. Inside the warehouse, auditors found mostly broken office furniture and stockpiles of printer/copier paper.

CBP also pays $502,000 each year to lease another 41,129-square-foot warehouse in Northern Virginia to store computer equipment. Upon inspection, auditors estimated about half of the items stored in the warehouse were obsolete.

And in Northern California, CBP leases another 6,500-square-foot warehouse for $74,000 each year to store old computers, broken equipment, office furniture and some books.

“The warehouse is mostly empty, and CBP does not actively manage or conduct physical inventories of the stored items,” auditors wrote in the report, adding that the warehouse appeared to be unused since 2012.

In all of these cases, investigators estimated the cost of leasing the warehouses exceeded the total cost of the items being stored. Auditors estimated that by closing or consolidating these three facilities, DHS could put $1 million to better use.

Watchdogs and tax advocates say the latest findings on the government’s warehouse leases justify an intervention — or at least a thorough round of spring cleaning.

“Who knows what ancient treasures have long been forgotten in these government warehouses. My bet is that tech historians would have a field day sorting through the cobweb-covered Commodore 64s and Atari gaming systems stuffed into the back corners of these junk-filled storage buildings,” said Richard Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, a spending watchdog. “It’s time for the entire U.S. government to have a garage sale, throw out what no one wants and sell the newly emptied properties. This would increase state and local tax rolls while saving the taxpayers millions of wasted dollars.”

For continuing to spend millions of dollars each year to store old junk in giant warehouses, DHS wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a weekly distinction awarded by The Washington Times highlighting the most egregious examples of wasteful spending.

“When it comes to long-term storage, most business owners would balk at leasing space that costs more than the stuff occupying the space is worth. But with the feds, that commonsense equation doesn’t seem to add up. It’s time they learned the math,” said Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union.

In addition to the junkyard warehouses, auditors found DHS mislabeled warehouses as offices and vice versa.

“As a result, DHS‘ ability to make strategic management decisions to consolidate or close warehouses is limited. Also, neither DHS nor its components can demonstrate compliance with requirements to limit the size of real property inventories and reduce costs,” auditors wrote in the report.

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Commons Sense, said the report seems to indicate that “the D in DHS seems to stand for dysfunctional,” and said “paying to store junk should land some of these DHS agencies on the next episode of ‘Hoarders.’”

In a response letter attached to the report, DHS officials told investigators that they are committed to “effective and efficient use of taxpayer dollars through initiatives to identify regional consolidation and shared services opportunities.”

And Congress’ own federal watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, has included federally owned property, including warehouses, on its “high risk” list for waste for several years.

“Unlike a private business, which is constantly striving to reduce costs, the government has no incentive to reduce costs. There’s no incentives to get rid of these things,” Mr. Edwards said.

In 2010 President Obama directed federal agencies to make cutbacks on property leases and storage in order to save $3 billion. In 2013, the Office of Management and Budget issued guidance to agencies on this policy, called “Freeze the Footprint,” which prohibits agencies from increasing the size of their domestic office and warehouse inventory from the FY 2012 baseline. Then, in March 2015, OMB issued an updated policy requiring agencies to reduce rather than freeze their property footprint beginning in FY 2016.

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