Dan Mathews had only spent an hour inside his new office at 1800 F St. Northwest, but he was already learning a valuable lesson.
On Aug. 3 Mathews was sworn in as commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Public Buildings Service. As PBS commissioner, Mathews will oversee GSA’s real property portfolio, which consists of 370 million rentable square feet in a variety of buildings, structures, labs, courts and offices.
His appointment to the role ends more than two decades of work with the U.S. House of Representatives.
“For 22 years I sat at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue on Capital Hill, with direct oversight of GSA,” Mathews said during a short speech at his swearing-in ceremony at GSA’s Washington, D.C. headquarters. “I’ve been here about an hour this morning and it’s truly amazing how different the view up here is already. In all seriousness, I’m under no illusion that two decades of working with Congress has taught me everything I need to know to be successful in this job, or to help GSA succeed.”
For that, Mathews said, he’ll be relying on career staff at GSA to help teach, counsel and guide him, and in turn, “you can expect me to listen and to learn.”
“I look forward to getting new ideas, opportunities and recommendations from all of you, and this extends to our government partners in the real estate industry, too,” Mathews said. ‘”I want to understand what we do well and where we can improve from their perspective. GSA has a strong cadre of career professionals who are well respected both inside government and outside of government. While I believe there’s always room for improvement, if there are changes they’ll come after thoughtful consideration and they’ll be directed toward our primary goal of saving taxpayer dollars.”
But Mathews doesn’t come without some federal real property experience. He served the past 14 years as the Republican staff director for the House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management.
“My goal is really quite simple: meet the federal real estate needs at the best possible price for the taxpayer,” Mathews said. “Whether we’re shrinking our footprint, disposing of underutilized property, or acquiring new facilities, Congress has given us powerful tools to accomplish our mission. We need to work with our partners in government to ensure we have full access to those tools and that we use them appropriately to protect the interest of the taxpayer.”
Mathews said according to his former committee’s calculations, PBS has saved the government more than $3 billion on potential construction or lease projects in the past few years.
“That’s a tremendous accomplishment, and I know there’s a bipartisan consensus in Congress to continue those efforts and even to expand them into the future,” Mathews said.
A tremendous opportunity
Mathews steps into his role as PBS commissioner at a time of high interest in GSA and its real property management.
One day before his swearing in, then acting PBS Commissioner Michael Gelber [who returned to his position as deputy commissioner after Mathews was sworn in] promised a Senate committee that within 120 days, GSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation would bring a “workable solution” for the FBI headquarters consolidation project.
GSA cancelled the project in mid-July due to a lack of funding.
Another large project that’s gained attention under GSA’s management is the DHS headquarters consolidation project.
The president’s budget includes $85 million in funding for DHS to continue moving component agencies to St. Elizabeths in Washington.
But at least one lawmaker is concerned — after hearing about funding issues for the FBI headquarters — for the future of that project, as well.
“I firmly believe that finishing the DHS headquarters would improve our national security, increase morale and productivity at the department, and ultimately save money for taxpayers,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) during an Aug. 2 Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing. “The DHS consolidation is an example of what we can do when we all work together. However, without adequate funding from Congress in the years ahead, this FBI project and the St. Elizabeths project may face unacceptable cost escalations and delays that are wholly preventable through congressional action.”
GSA has also been in the spotlight for its seemingly conflicting rulings on the Old Post Office hotel and its current owner, the Trump Organization.
Gelber told Democratic lawmakers at a Dec. 8 briefing that President Donald Trump must sell off his financial stake in the Trump Hotel, located blocks away from the White House, due to a clause in the contract that prohibits elected officials from leasing the federally-owned Old Post Office Pavilion.
In March, GSA’s Contracting Officer Kevin Terry and general counsel ruled that Trump was not in violation of his lease with GSA because he put the hotel in a trust and is not benefiting from the profits while he is in office.
GSA also needs to consider its portfolio management as it relates to the Government Accountability Office’s 2017 High-Risk List.
As it has since 2003, GAO flagged federal real property management as a concern because of the vacant buildings, crumbling structures and potential security challenges included in the 273,000 buildings that are leased or owned by the government.
Despite the tall order Mathews is receiving, he was optimistic about the future of GSA’s building service.
“I really think this is an exciting time to be at GSA,” Mathews said. “Over half our lease space is expiring in the next few years, the modern office environment is transforming, most markets where GSA has a major presence is still a buyer’s market. We have powerful real estate tools at our disposal, the best brokers and bipartisan alignment in Congress and the administration, to save money through real estate. These factors combine to create a tremendous opportunity for meeting our mission and saving taxpayer dollars.”