Talk about your fixer-uppers.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is trying to unload hundreds of vacant and useless buildings, potentially saving taxpayers $23 million every year, but historic preservation tags have been slapped on many of them, blocking action.
VA Secretary David J. Shulkin said the agency owns thousands of buildings from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I, and World War II, many vacant and under historical preservation status.
Citing 100 buildings that are from the Civil War and Revolutionary War, Shulkin said "even though they are buildings that we aren't using or buildings that are too old to viably use, they still have historic preservation status."
Overall, 2,226 VA buildings, hospitals, private garages, and even a bowling alley in Iowa — 35 percent of its 6,297 real estate holdings — have historic status, blocking destruction or major renovations. One dates to 1735.
But that is no longer going to hold up VA's bid to do something about them.
"I need to work with other federal agencies and government organizations to make sure that we can get those properly addressed, either gift them, or give them back to organizations that want to maintain them or readdress some of their status," Shulkin said.
Shulkin is on a two-year mission to dump or repurpose 1,100 buildings. He said the effort would save taxpayers $15.7 million annually beginning in 2017 and a total of $23 million in combined annual savings.
"My plan is to deal with those 1,100 in the next two years. When you look at them, there are 142 that I've already made decisions on, and I'm proceeding either to dispose of them, destroy them, or essentially give them back to the [General Services Administration, the federal real estate agency], back to the federal inventory," he said.
VA officials said he also is working hard with non-governmental groups and local governments for partnerships that will help veterans, either providing them cheap housing in the buildings or other services — and share upkeep costs.
"We don't want to just demolish them," said spokesman Terrence Hayes. "That's a last resort."
For Shulkin, the goal is helping vets and cutting costs to taxpayers. When he announced his plan, Shulkin said, "We owe it to the American taxpayer to apply as much of our funding as possible to helping veterans," adding, "We need to move rapidly to bring savings to taxpayers. We will work through the legal requirements and regulations for disposal and reuse, and we will do it as swiftly as possible."
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org