How to Pay Down the Federal Deficit: Sell America's Icons, Assets and Gold?

For most Americans, it is unimaginable that the U.S. could put its iconic properties on the market. But as the nation struggles to balance its balance sheet, should the federal government take a look at selling some of its most valuable assets?

It wouldn't be the first time that a large nation has pondered taking such drastic steps in recent years. Just two years ago, the Greeks and the British probably never would have thought that some of their famed assets would hit the auction block.

But since then, Greece has been saddled with such onerous budget restrictions due to E.U. bailout guarantees that some have suggested that it sell some of its popular islands. A number of the country's politicians are attempting to block the transactions. One of the jokes about Greece -- which sadly now has some basis in reality -- is that it will have to sell the Parthenon. The Greeks don't find the joke very funny.

The British have also begun the sale of assets, which could eventually include the Royal Mail.

Asset sales by governments have a long history. A large percentage of the geographic area of the United States was acquired through the purchase of land from other governments. In the Louisiana Purchase, Napoleonic France, strapped for cash due to its wars in Europe, sold the United States land that is now part or all of 14 states for the 2010 equivalent of $219 million.

24/7 Wall St. has identified nine U.S. assets that could generate a total of $543 billion -- or about a third of the annual budget deficit for the government's current fiscal year. The list is by no means comprehensive, but shows that the U.S. has salable assets that, in some cases, are worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Each of the nine assets on this list were compared to private companies or entities that already have established public valuations. For example, to put a value on the U.S. Postal Service, 24/7 Wall St. looked at FedEx (FDX) and United Parcel Service (UPS), and to estimate a sale price for the New York Federal Reserve building, they examined nearby Wall Street real estate. We looked at cash flow and revenue figures when comparable values were not available. We determined the size and dimensions of each asset using U.S. government data, which was taken from dozens of departments and agencies.

It's worth noting, though: While these nine sales and licensing agreements might make a big dent in a single year's budget deficit, they wouldn't balance the budget, and the current federal debt -- the overall amount we owe -- is around $14 trillion. That $543 billion is just a drop in the bigger bucket -- we'd need to find many, many more assets to put on the auction block to significantly reduce the debt. But this is a huge country, and this list is just the tip of the iceberg.

1. New York Federal Reserve Building
Guesstimated price tag: $750 million
Location: Manhattan, New York
U.S. ownership: 87 years
Who should buy it: Donald Trump, SL Green, Tishman Speyer
Why it's valuable: Location

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is located in a massive building that takes up an entire block in Manhattan's Financial District. Construction of the building was completed in 1924. It's 14 stories tall and features an additional five floors underground. If the bank relocated to less valuable real estate, the government could make a significant amount of money. A recent notice issued by the New York City Department of Finance estimated the building's value for the 2011 to 2012 tax year to be $88,594,000. While this may be the value for tax purposes, a review of comparable buildings in Manhattan revealed this wold likely be significantly less than its market price. On Madison Avenue, a similar building was sold for just under $1 billion. In all likelihood, considering its location and the historical significance of the building, the government could fetch closer to $750 million from a buyer like Donald Trump or SL Green.

2. Hoover Dam
Guesstimated price tag: $415 million
Location: Nevada/Arizona
U.S. ownership: 75 years
Who should buy it: Duke Power, Con Edison, Southern Company
Why it's valuable: Hydroelectric power

The Hoover Dam includes one of the largest hydroelectric installations in the country. If a company were to purchase the structure, it would most likely do so to privatize the dam and reap the benefits from the sale of the power it generates. According to the Department of the Interior, the average annual net generation for the Hoover Dam from 1947 through 2008 was about 4.2 billion kilowatt-hours. The Energy Information Administration calculates the average retail price of a single kilowatt-hour, as of 2010, at 9.88 cents. That means the energy produced by the dam each year is worth roughly $415 million. Of course, the operators of the power plant must deal with additional, necessary costs, such as flood control. Without the benefit of a profit and loss statement for the dam, one year's revenue is a reasonable -- though quite conservative -- valuation.

3. Randolph Air Force Base
Guesstimated price tag: $1 billion
Location: San Antonio, Texas
U.S. ownership: 81 years
Who should buy it: City of San Antonio
Why it's valuable: Could be converted to a commercial airport

There are many cases of former Air Force bases being converted into commercial airports, including the fields that are now Bangor International in Maine and Southern California Logistics in the Golden State. This usually happens only after a base has been closed, but there's no reason to believe the government wouldn't sell an operating base in an area where it could get a premium price for it. According to the Census Bureau, San Antonio is the fourth fastest-growing city in the U.S. The metropolis also happens to have a nation-high three Air Force bases within its city limits. Randolph AFB has two substantial runways capable of supporting all but the largest jetliners. Incorporating the costs the city of San Antonio would have to sustain to upgrade facilities and build a new terminal, Randolph could be sold for as much as $1 billion.

4. Naming Rights to the Grand Canyon
Guesstimated price tag: $1 billion
Location: Arizona
U.S. ownership: Became a national monument 103 years ago
Who should buy it: Large international brand
Why it's valuable: Brand recognition

It's very common for large venues, like stadiums and convention centers, to sell naming rights for tens of millions of dollars. The new Citi Field in New York (formerly the Met's Shea Stadium) sold naming rights to Citigroup for $400 million. The U.S. government would likely get much more for a major national attraction like the Grand Canyon, which has more than twice as many visitors each year as Citi Field, and has the added branding value of being a major national landmark. This trend could spread to any of the hundreds of national monuments in the U.S., such as Mount Rushmore or the Washington Monument.

5. Yellowstone National Park
Guesstimated price tag: $5 billion
Location: Idaho, Montana, Wyoming
U.S. ownership: 139 years
Who should buy it: Plum Creek, Weyerhaeuser
Why it's valuable: Timber

Yellowstone, spread across parts of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, is a popular destination for tourists trying to experience the best of the great outdoors. But if the federal government reaches a point where it is desperate for cash, it could try to sell the land to foresting and paper companies like Plum Creek or Weyerhaeuser for its timber value. Based on the current price per acre of Wyoming timberland, the 2.2 million acre park (more than twice the size of Rhode Island) could fetch approximately $5 billion from a major logging concern.

6. Interstate Highway System
Guesstimated price tag: $25 billion
Location: Across the U.S.
U.S. ownership: 55 years
Who would buy it: Carlyle, Blackstone, TPG Capital
Why it's valuable: Tolls, roadside businesses

According to the Federal Highway Administration, the Dwight D. Eisenhower U.S. Interstate Highway System is the largest in the world, spanning more than 45,000 miles. Today, the system is largely without toll roads, besides those present before the system was incorporated in 1956. While the government pays more than $5 billion each year maintaining the interstates, if an independent company purchased the system and set up tolls on half of the existing interstate roads, potential revenue for a single year would be close to $25 billion. But as with the Hoover Dam, these calculations have to be made without the benefit of a profit and loss statement, so the price tag of one year's revenues -- $25 billion -- is a quite conservative valuation.

7. U.S. Postal Service
Guesstimated price tag: $40 billion
Location: Nationwide
U.S. ownership: 236 years
Who should buy it: UPS, FedEx
Why it's valuable: Parcel delivery infrastructure (employees, vehicles, buildings)

The U.S. postal service, mired in debt and facing steady declines in mail volume, could nevertheless be a potentially valuable enterprise for one of the country's larger parcel companies. The acquiring company would likely assume the Postal Service's facilities, employees and fleet, strip down the unnecessary elements, and incorporate the remaining parts into its own operations. As implausible as a buyout like this seems, it could happen. The British government is currently considering the same thing for its own Royal Mail, with some reports suggesting a public stock offering of $14.4 billion. The U.S. Postal Service is several times larger than its U.K. equivalent, and even incorporating the $13 billion in debt that would be assumed by a buyer, operations could go for as much as $40 billion.

8. The Gulf of Mexico
Guesstimated price tag: $70 billion
Location: Gulf of Mexico
U.S. ownership: Lease agreement
Who should buy it: BP, Exxon, Texaco
Why it's valuable: Oil drilling

The U.S. currently leases massive blocks of territory in the Gulf of Mexico through auction to the biggest oil companies in the world. At the moment, the government has only leased roughly one-fifth of the nearly 160 million acres of drillable space in the gulf. With the demand for new sources of oil rising steadily, there's good reason to believe the government, if in a dire fiscal predicament, could initiate a fire sale on the remaining property for a reduced price. Currently, blocks (a square mile or more) are being leased for an average of $550 per acre. The government could sell, rather than lease, the remaining land at this price for more than $70 billion.

9. U.S. Gold Supply
Guesstimated price tag: $400 billion
Location: U.S. Bullion Depository, Fort Knox, Kentucky
U.S. ownership: Varies
Who should buy It: China, Germany, the International Monetary Fund
Why it's valuable: Precious commodity

The advantage of gold is that holdings are completely liquid because of the demand from other large nations, for commercial use, and for private products used by consumers. At least 15 countries and organizations hold gold reserves valued at more than $20 billion. The U.S. currently possesses the greatest hoard of gold in the world, at nearly 9,000 metric tons. The value of this gold, according to the World Gold Council is close to $400 billion.

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John

Lets start out by selling the politicians.....But wait....Thay have already been bought.................And THAT is why we are in the shape we are in.......Stop foriegn aid, except where it is for humanitarian purposes.....Stop subsidies to tobacco, farms, and especially oil companies..........Eliminate ear marks from bills.....Give the president a line-item-veto so he WILL be responsible for what is spent. Right now he is not responsible for what Congress does.....Make ALL large companies pay taxes.....raise taxes on ALL Americans......WE own this problem....Just like when a family is in trouble, we all have to pitch in and help.....Then lower taxes when the problem is eliminated.........Get the hell out of other peoples wars........Spend "war" money on alternative fuel......Cut military spending, we have enough to wipe out the world, we don't need more.......But Please, Please, do not sell what our fathers fought and died to protect. It was their gift to us, and will be our gift to our children's generation.

May 19 2011 at 5:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
irishgal5018

There would be MILLIONS more in our government coffers, IF THE GOVERNMENT WOULD STOP ALL PAYMENTS AND FREE FOOD, AND MEDICAL, AND FREE HOUSING TO ALL "ILLEGAL ALIENS". THESE "FREE LOADERS" LIVE IN BETTER HOMES, AND DRIVES NICER CARS THAN AMERICANS DO THAT WORK EVERYDAY. The money that is WASTED on people who AREN'T EVEN AMERICANS, would be more than enough to bring THE GOVERNMENT SPENDING UNDER CONTROL. BUT, OUR GOVERNMENT WANT THE "ILLEGAL ALIENS" WHICH ARE MOSTLY mexicans TO "ILLEGALLY" VOTE FOR THEM, "THEM" BEING THE dimowits. IF EVERYONE WOULD TELL THEIR ELECTED TO THROW OUT ALL "ILLEGAL ALIENS" OR FACE BEING PUT OUT OF OFFICE AT THE NEXT ELECTION, AND MAYBE BEFORE THEN IF WE CAN START RECALLING ELECTED OFFICIALS THAT ARE NOT DOING THE WILL OF THE "AMERICAN" PEOPLE. IT IS A DISGRACE THAT THESE FOOLS IN DC ARE EVEN THINKING OF SELLING OFF OUR NATION PARKS AND OTHER NATIONAL TREASURES. IT IS UP TO US AS AMERICANS TO STOP THOSE IN OFFICE OF "GIVING" AWAY OUR COUNTRY TO FOREIGNERS.

April 11 2011 at 2:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Your Royal Greatness

I agree with Snowbird. The government en masse is an easy scapegoat. You can't send all of government to jail, and therefore, no one gets punished. This doesn't take away from the fact that crimes are being committed. The American people are being literally robbed by a political system that was supposed to serve us. Not being a lawyer I have to think that our government has the power to keep corporations from literally working us to death while at the same time draining us of every cent before we die. If so, they are failing in their jobs. When social security goes, then for many americans death will come even before they get a chance to live at least a few years of their lives not working for "the man". If corporations can afford to buy America, then it seems that the balance of wealth has shifted too far to them. Tax corporations, tax the wealthiest 1% of the country, do away with health-care benefits for life to politicians, let the American people see the tremendous amounts of benefits that those in power and priveldge enjoy while everyone's cost of living goes up, and they have to work longer and longer until they die.

March 28 2011 at 9:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
snowbird58

I READ THIS ARTICLE AND AGREE ICONS AND ASSETS EXCEPT FOR FORT KNOX. THE GOVERNMENT NEEDS CASH ON HAND. BUT WHAT I FIND SHAMEFUL IS THE AMERICAN COMPANIES WHO DON'T HAVE TO PAY INCOME TAXES, LIKE GE,BOA, VERIZON ETC.. WHO EVER OK'D THIS, WELL I CAN'T SAY. WE WOULDN'T BE IN THIS SITUATION IF IT WASN'T FOR THE GREEDY RICH. HOW UNAMERICAN THEY ARE.

March 28 2011 at 6:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cartra

AND WHAT WILL WE SELL AFTER THIS MONEY IS SPENT? THE GOVERNMENT WILL SPEND EVERYTHING UNTIL WE HAVE NOTHING!

March 27 2011 at 11:40 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cartra's comment
doug

why don't we have all elected officals take a fifty percent pay cut like everyone trint to get a job in this country. pay for their medical and all their other needs like every american not in public office has too.no more goverment cars,planes,parties,oversea trips at our expense. pay your way the same as the rest of america has too. why not pay elected officals the same as our men and women it the armied forces amke for defending this great country instead of sitting behind a desk out of harms way and telling us they doing everything they can to make it safe for the rest of us.

March 29 2011 at 5:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
My Most Precious

Just do an international bankruptcy... give ourselves 10 years to clean up our credit and call it a day... 14 trillion is what the govt owes, the people own the icons mentioned and they should never be on sale, enough of America is owned by foreign interests as it stands... do everything cash and carry...If we pulled together we could do it but between greed and sloth ...well it will not happen

March 27 2011 at 4:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jeniferret

Guys, don't you think this was a joke?

March 26 2011 at 6:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Roger

I don't know what most folks think about, but I think it's abt like our President, only good behind closed doors, and entirely stupid in public. If we start selling our parks and landmarks, whats next, invite the Chinese in to take over our Government. Nothing meant by this as to doing anything to the President, it's just FREE SPEACH!!!

March 25 2011 at 11:24 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
nealoscoda

hmmmm a thought just accured to me, I wonder how much money we could save the tax payers if we out sourced our government? that makes about as much sense as selling off our parks and government services.

March 25 2011 at 12:51 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
catfishandray

To begin with, no matter what the reason, you never, ever sell USA real estate. We've already sold most of Hawaii to Japan. It's outrageous. The only thing that should ever be sold in this country is our goods and services, never our country. There is no National Debt. If every country on this planet paid the USA back for what they owe the USA for World War II the USA would have no debt.

March 25 2011 at 10:36 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to catfishandray's comment
snowbird58

I AGREE,HOW DO WE DO THAT, KEEP QUDAFFY'S MONEY SINCE IT'S IN AMERICA?

March 28 2011 at 6:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply