Cruz said the remaining employees will be relocated next spring.

So when will the GSA put the Appraisers Stores building up for sale?

"In the future," Cruz said.

Rohrer of the Downtown Partnership praised the GSA effort to steer the building through the process and communicate with local officials.

"It has been slower than, obviously, we would like, but ... while it isn't being converted yet, it has productive use, which is better than being vacant," she said. "They're having to go through the letter of the law."

Another notable property, a 9.54-acre complex of buildings in Gaithersburg that was the former home of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, is close to being transferred to the city for use as a park, Cruz said. The site, now vacant and gated, sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

The Coast Guard had about a dozen properties on the 2011 list that were located in Annapolis. A spokesman for the agency, Chief Petty Officer Nyx Cangemi, said many of the structures have been demolished but the transfer of the property to the GSA for disposal is pending.

National Park Service officials say they believe little has changed with nearly two dozen surplus properties the agency owns at Antietam, Assateague Island and Catoctin Mountain Park. The properties are categorized in the OMB database as warehouses, parking structures and utility systems.

"Typically, the National Park Service does not have the funds available for demolition or removal and will mothball the asset," said spokeswoman Kathy Kupper. "This means that little to no maintenance is done to the facility. The focus is mostly on safety and keeping visitors out."

The estimate of 77,700 surplus properties nationwide comes from a 2010 GSA report. It does not include property owned solely by the U.S. Postal Service, including the historic building on Church Circle in Annapolis that was sold to the state of Maryland in May for $3.2 million.

When the Obama administration released the list of properties in 2011, it proposed an independent panel, the Civilian Property Realignment Board, to deal with the issue. The board was to assess the government's inventory and then start selling properties under a process similar to the military's base realignment and closure effort. But Congress never approved that proposal.

Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, has held several hearings this year to quiz officials from the GSA and other agencies on the issue. He has repeatedly questioned whether the Beltsville Agricultural Research Service should be moved to another part of the country with less expensive real estate.

"To have 7,000 acres ... sit like that with almost half the buildings decrepit, it's mind-boggling," the Florida Republican said during one of the hearings.

The research service has overseen the facility for more than a century. Its scientists study a breathtaking range of topics, from climate change to the DNA of honeybees to pesticides used to keep sand flies off soldiers in the desert.

The agency developed a way to recycle chicken feathers into disposable diapers and, in the 1940s, its scientists created a breed of turkey that serves as the genetic foundation of virtually every turkey sold today in the United States.

Spence, the site's director, said the center benefits from its proximity to the University of Maryland and the Food and Drug Administration. He rejected the idea that the work taking place in Beltsville could be conducted anywhere.

"If it was just the farming, sure, you could move it to Kansas," he said. "But you can't just move some of these things elsewhere and have the same research."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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