Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Oversight’s Subcommittee on Government Operations, vowed Tuesday to block the General Services Administration from moving the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities out of the Old Post Office Building and into new leased space in Southwest Washington, D.C.
But Mica’s ire has little to do with either the NEH or the NEA or GSA’s plans to redevelop the Old Post Office with an assist from Donald Trump.
At issue is a years-long effort by Mica to relocate the Federal Trade Commission out of the historic “Apex” building on Pennsylvania Avenue and into privately leased space in a building known as the Constitution Center at 400 7th St. SW. The regulatory agency’s departure would make room for an expansion of the National Gallery of Art, per Mica’s proposal.
FTC is currently consolidating two satellite offices into the Constitution Center. But both the FTC and GSA say there isn’t enough space in the building — especially not with the addition of NEA and NEH — to also shift FTC headquarters there.
Aside from space considerations, the proposed move isn’t feasible financially, FTC Executive Director David Robbins testified before the subcommittee Tuesday.
“Even if all the FTC’s D.C. operations could be fit in (the building’s remaining space), the costs to the American taxpayers would be prohibitive,” he said.
As Mica sees it, however, the FTC and GSA are simply “thwarting” the move.
GSA: NEH and NEA need to be moved out of Old Post Office
GSA has been looking to fill space at Constitution Center since 2011, after the Securities and Exchange Commission closed on a deal to lease space there but ended up not needing as much space as initially thought. GSA took on the authority to fill the building’s remaining vacancies in 2011.
Chris Wisner, GSA’s assistant commissioner in the Public Buildings Service’s Office of Leasing, said GSA first began looking at moving NEH and NEA into space at Constitution Center in July 2012, a few months after GSA selected the Trump Organization to develop the Old Post Office Building, which currently houses the two small agencies, into a hotel.
The NEH-NEA move into Constitution Center is about 35 percent complete and on track to be completed by March, Wisner said. At that time, both agencies need to be out of the Old Post Office Building or GSA will incur penalties of about $1 million a month, under the terms of the Trump deal
Mica, however, questioned why GSA decided to move NEH and NEA into Constitution Center and wondered whether it wasn’t to deliberately to “thwart” his proposed FTC move.
He said he planned to find some way to block the two agencies’ move into the center, including by legislation appended to an appropriations bill.
“I’m going to look at every avenue,” he told Federal News Radio in a brief interview after Tuesday’s hearing.
Mica said he also wants GSA to provide a list of other alternative available spaces in the Washington region, both federally owned and leased, that the two small agencies could be relocated to, instead of the Constitution Center.
His renewed effort to move the agency out of its historic headquarters comes as the FTC is already moving a handful of its offices out of two privately leased spaces — one at New Jersey Avenue and the other at M Street — to the Constitution Center.
The new space will host 905 employees and contractors at about 119 square feet per employee, a reduction from current utilization rates of 167 square feet per employee, FTC testified.
But the agency draws the line at moving headquarters.
For one thing, GSA has determined that the FTC needs a minimum of about 446,000 square feet for its entire space needs in the D.C. region, according to Wisner’s testimony
The Constitution Center simply can’t supply that, both GSA and FTC maintain.
Even without the NEH and NEA moving in, there’s only about 350,000 square feet of available space, Wisner said.
Mica disputed those estimates.
“That’s bull,” he said. “This is an abuse of taxpayer money unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”
Mica contended that there would be enough space for all FTC employees to fit in the building at a space-utilization rate of at least 119 square feet per employee.
But beyond the space requirements, FTC officials point to the high costs associated with relocating headquarters.
“The financials just don’t make any sense,” FTC’s Robbins said, citing $50 million in initial moving costs.
In addition, the Apex building is a federally owned facility, and FTC pays about $6 million in “rent” annually to GSA’s Federal Building Fund. Relocating FTC headquarters at the Constitution Center would incur about $170 million in additional leasing costs over 30 years, GSA said. The National Gallery of Art, if it were moved into the Apex building, also would not make payments into the GSA fund.
The available and needed space weren’t the only areas of dispute. The agencies and Mica also sparred over the condition of the current FTC headquarters building.
Mica called the 75-year-old building a “dump.”
“You’re putting federal employees in substandard office space, in my opinion,” he said, as he showed slides on a projector of what appeared to be aging electrical systems and outdated furnishings, such as a phone booths in a hallway.
Robbins, however, said the building is not underutilized and does not need significant renovation.
“The Apex building is a functional building, it is a performing facility and it doesn’t require additional investments,” he testified.