FTC: Proposed relocation ‘wholly unnecessary’

Eileen Harrington, executive director, FTC

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The four sitting commissioners of the Federal Trade Commission have “grave concerns” about a House committee’s plan to relocate the agency out of its historic Pennsylvania Ave. location into a privately held building in Southwest, Washington D.C.

“To require the agency to move out of its historic headquarters building … which still suits the agency and its mission, would impose well over $100 million in wholly unnecessary costs,” the commissioners wrote in a March 8 letter to lawmakers. “This unprecedented giveaway would be completely contrary to the interests of American taxpayers, especially in this time of fiscal austerity.”

At issue is a plan by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) that tasks the General Services Administration with fleshing out a formal proposal for the move. Mica has proposed filling FTC’s vacated headquarters with an addition to the National Gallery of Art.

“We are aware of no precedent for ousting a federal agency from a federally-owned building that fully meets its needs into privately-owned space,” the commissioners stated in the letter.

In an interview on In Depth with Francis Rose, Eileen Harrington, FTC’s executive director, said much of the costs associated with the proposed move — anywhere from $60 million to $90 million — would result from the need to replicate many of the commission’s functions in a new space. That includes the data center housed at FTC’s current headquarters, investigative and forensic labs as well as facilities that were “designed into the building when it was built for the Federal Trade Commission in the 1930s,” Harrington said.

Harrington said lawmakers are likely concerned about “the very high costs of giving away a federally owned building and moving a functioning federal agency out of a federally owned building into commercial leased space.”

For his part, Mica has said moving the National Gallery into the FTC building would be paid for by private developers, thereby eliminating the need for taxpayers to foot the bill for needed renovations at FTC.

However, Harrington said the FTC building doesn’t need to be renovated.

“The cost-saving argument is not accurate,” she said. “Instead, this is a huge cost imposition at a time, frankly, when all of our salaries have been frozen, we have tightened our belts as tightly as we can here, as all federal agencies are doing. And then for us to watch this effort to give away a federal building and impose huge costs that we don’t have appropriations to cover — it just doesn’t make sense to us.”

In Depth has reached out Mica’s office for an interview.