Buildings and Bandwidth: Lessons for Spectrum Policy from Federal Property Management

Dorothy Robyn
Robyn headshot
Dorothy Robyn Senior Fellow - Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy

September 23, 2014

As the demand for commercial wireless services continues to grow at a steep rate, there is mounting pressure on the federal government to reduce its spectrum holdings. Several recent proposals for reforming the management of federally used spectrum are inspired by institutions or approaches used for the management of federal property, including creation of a General Services Administration (GSA) for spectrum and the use of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process to clear federal spectrum. Based in part on her recent experience as the senior federal property manager at GSA and DoD, the author critiques these and other proposals for institutional reform of federal spectrum management. She also looks at the relevance for federal spectrum policy of the economic tools used to incentivize federal agencies to economize in their use of federal building space and to dispose of underutilized property. A major lesson for spectrum policy is that the ability to retain proceeds from the disposal of property is a key motivator for federal agencies if the incentive is properly structured. Key statutory authorities used to promote federal property disposal, including long-term outleasing and property exchange (barter), also seem applicable to federal spectrum management, as do public-private ventures as a way to address agencies’ need for the capital to upgrade older radio systems with newer, more spectrum-efficient systems.