In The News
Charleston’s port needs deepening. Can Congress do its job?
By George F. Will
A House committee is giving the public a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the federal government's real estate leasing process because the agency overseeing the process doesn't release that information.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has started keeping a score card on its website for all major capital projects and leasing deals proposed by the General Services Administration, often going public with those big-ticket prospectuses weeks before they surface on the GSA's own website.
Visitors can keep tabs on whether the committee or its counterpart in the Senate have voted on those prospectuses, a required step before the GSA lease space costing more than $2.8 million a year. The committee recently posted a fresh batch, including seven local prospectuses.
Included with that info — and something the GSA doesn’t post to its website even after the fact — is the plan detailing an agency’s current employment and growth expectation, how its current space breaks down between multiple buildings and how much of that space includes common areas such as hallways, bathrooms or storage rooms.
“GSA doesn’t post such a list, and if we did not, it would be very difficult to locate otherwise,” a committee spokesman explained.
What sort of information can you learn from the plan? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for example, expects to add 78 employees to its workforce of 581 at 131 M St. NE, which is why it wants to go from just under 161,000 rentable square feet to up to 170,000 square feet. But those employees will be packed into 215 square feet per person, down from about 240 square feet now.
That probably gets too far into the weeds for those not familiar with terms like utilization rates or the ratio of usable square footage to rentable square footage, but the disclosures highlight how big a gap there is between the House and the GSA and why Congress might balk at approving a specific prospectus.
It's not unusual for there to be some push-and-pull between what a federal agency wants and what lawmakers think it deserves. Another big point of contention are restrictions like ceiling heights and geographic boundaries, which can reduce the odds of an agency having to move to a particular building or part of town.
To be sure, the relationship between the committee and GSA has become significantly less contentious under Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., than under some his predecessors. That's particularly true in contrast to when Florida Republican Rep. John Mica held the gavel. Mica, at one point, vowed not to bring any prospectuses forward until the GSA budged on his request to displace the Federal Trade Commission to make room for the space-constrained National Gallery of Art.
At the same time, the two aren't always in lock-step, as you can see from the committee's website. It has yet to approve funding for the FBI's proposed headquarters, months after its Senate counterpart took action, and several prospectuses it received are still pending, including those for the Environmental Protection Agency, Peace Corps and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.