FBI land swap concerns dominate GSA budget hearing

The plan to swap the FBI’s current building in downtown Washington for an as- yet-unnamed site in the metro region is causing consternation on Capitol Hill. Some members used a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing to share their concerns with Denise Turner Roth, the acting administrator of the General Services Administration.

While the hearing was ostensibly about GSA’s budget proposal for fiscal 2016, both Democrats and Republicans said they feared that the federal government could lose money on the biggest deal of its kind in GSA’s history. The members also worried that the process GSA had chosen made it hard for them to oversee the negotiations.

FBI building in downtown Washington, D.C.
The agency plans to exchange the 1970s-era J. Edgar Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue for the construction of 2.1 million square feet of office space in Maryland or Virginia. Roth declined to cite the value of the Hoover Building, saying she did not want to reveal GSA’s hand in a competitive market. But, she said, the agency intended to strike a deal that would cover the costs of replacing the Hoover building.

The agency is winnowing down the potential developers. It plans to make an award this fall, she said.

“You want to, hopefully, make sure you get even Steven,” replied Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. “I hope at the end of the day, when you have this new facility out there somewhere, you’re not going to come to us and ask for more money because it wasn’t a great deal in terms of what the FBI building is worth.”

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Noting that the FBI deal was not described in detail in GSA’s budget request, Rep. Jose Serrano (D- N.Y.) said he and Crenshaw were concerned that the committee’s oversight was diminished.

“We do think it’s important to have your buy-in and comfort with the project so we’ll continue to inform the staff and the committee about the progress we’re meeting,” Roth said.

In contrast, no committee member mentioned GSA’s request for $380 million for construction of a headquarters for the Homeland Security Department on the site of the former St. Elizabeths hospital in Southeast Washington. Roth said the request was enough to keep the project on track.

Both are examples of something Roth said was a priority for GSA: enabling agencies to consolidate their headquarters under one roof, thereby saving money on rent. She said GSA was getting “more proactive year after year about making agencies see the value of consolidating leases.”

The data shows that owning property saves the government money in the long run, she said, but sometimes it’s not available.

GSA has requested a $12 million increase in fiscal 2016 over this year. To maintain its real estate portfolio, it asked to leverage the rent it has collected from other agencies and to receive an advance on its fiscal 2017 Federal Buildings Fund request.

“GSA is particularly focused on upkeep and renovations of our existing inventory,” Roth said in her opening statement. “Unfortunately, GSA’s Major Repairs and Alterations account has also suffered from significant cuts over the last five fiscal years. As a result, the backlog of repairs needed continues to grow while the costs and urgency of these repairs continues to increase.”

Shared-services employees bid adieu to GSA, hello USDA

An intimate hearing. From left to right: Acting GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth, Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) (Emily Kopp)

Friday will be the last day at GSA for nearly 300 employees working on shared financial services. Come Sunday, GSA is transferring the entire program, including the workers, to the Agriculture Department, which runs a similar program.

The program does not fit with GSA’s core infrastructure, technology and acquisition services, Roth said.

“Ultimately, If we were going to continue, we’d have to invest primarily on the IT side and, potentially, with staff. It just didn’t fit with our mission,” she said.

GSA’s inspector general has cautioned that the agency should have a plan in case things do not go as smoothly as it expects.

“Thus far, it’s working well and we’re on time. With that being said, it’s a large move. It’s one we need to continue to watch closely,” Roth told the committee.

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