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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Congressman Jeff Denham’s Subcommittee Approves GSA Reforms to Cut Wasteful Agency Spending



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September 20, 2012 - WASHINGTON, DC — New legislation to reform the General Services Administration (GSA), improve the efficiency of federal space, reduce the size of the government’s footprint, eliminate GSA waste and abuse of taxpayer funds, and increase transparency and accountability at the agency was approved by the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management today.

H.R. 6430, the “Public Buildings Reform Act of 2012” is legislation authored by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL) and Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-CA).  The bill was introduced in the House today.

“In the face of a $16 trillion debt, we’ve been serious about eliminating waste and increasing efficiency in our government,” Denham said.  “We don’t want explanations, excuses or justifications from GSA.  We want change and substantive reform and this bill accomplishes those goals.”

In the 112th Congress, Chairman Denham’s Subcommittee has conducted vigorous oversight of GSA in an effort to improve the federal government’s wasteful management of federal property, including by holding Congressional hearings in empty and underutilized federal buildings in Washington, DC and across the country.  Mica and Denham have also worked to uncover the agency’s troubling culture of waste, notoriously exemplified by GSA’s lavish conferences, junkets, and bonuses.

Summary of Public Buildings Reform Act of 2012

Reduction of Federal Space Footprint

  • Requires GSA to offset any request for new space with an equivalent reduction of space through 2016
  • Requires GSA to reduce its inventory by 1 million square feet per year through 2016.

Minimizing Costs of Federal Space

  • Caps maximum rent for below-prospectus leases: proposals that are below the cost threshold of the congressional approval requirement.
  • Requires notification of below-prospectus lease-construction projects
  • Establishes federal courtroom sharing standards
  • Encourages use of commercial real estate brokers and requires GSA to report on performance of brokers and in-house personnel.
  • Requires reduction of Public Buildings Service personnel to 2008 levels.

Elimination of Waste and Abuse

  • Prohibits bonuses for Senior Executive Service (SES) employees through 2014.  Jeff Neely, infamous for helping plan the 2010 Las Vegas conference, was an SES employee.
  • Requires GSA to report to committee 30 days before entering into any agreements for a conference involving the Public Buildings Service.  The report would require a budget, purpose, expected participants, location and length.  The section would also require a post-conference report on actual costs, attendees, and agenda.
  • Restricts the total number of participants in the Public Buildings Service’s internship programs to 50 each fiscal year through 2015 and requires the IG to review the programs, their costs, value, and potential employment abuses.

Transparency and Accountability

  • Requires GSA to submit detailed budgets of administrative costs, including salaries, bonuses, travel, training and conferences.
  • Requires specific congressional authorizations of administration costs.
  • Sets expiration of committee resolutions approving GSA projects to 5 years.
  • Limits independent leasing authorities of agencies outside GSA.
  • Requires GSA to measure actual utilization of space and report to committee.
  • Requires GSA and tenant agencies to certify every 6 months to Congress the actual number of people housed in leased and owned buildings and gives GSA authority to increase rent of noncompliant tenant agencies.
  • Requires GSA to maintain a current database of the utilization of its properties and make the database available to congressional committees.
  • Restores congressional oversight of large leases and property acquisitions.
  • Requires GSA to report to committee annually on a list of vacant properties and associated costs.
  • Requires GSA to report to committee on project escalations exceeding 5%.

 

Chairman Denham’s Opening Remarks as Prepared

“Yesterday, Chairman Mica and I introduced the Public Buildings Reform Act to make critical reforms to GSA’s Public Buildings Service. We have unearthed systematic waste and mismanagement that is costing the taxpayer billions.

“Chairman Mica and I have held a series of hearings at vacant and underutilized properties, including at the Old Post Office Annex, the Cotton Annex and the Old Georgetown Heating Plant here in D.C. During August, we held hearings at the vacant Dyer courthouse in Miami and at the Roybal courthouse in L.A.

“Curiously, it was not until our Committee shined a spotlight on the waste that GSA took action. For example, it was after this Subcommittee held hearings at the Old Post Office that GSA finally announced a developer for that site and GSA placed a “for sale” sign on the Old Georgetown Plant a day before our hearing there – 11 years after the building was vacated.

“It shouldn’t take committee oversight to get GSA to do its job. Chairman Mica identified these issues in his Sitting on Our Assets report and since then, we have found not only billions of wasted dollars and opportunities in how GSA manages its real property, but waste in how GSA runs its operations.

“From million dollar conferences in Vegas to exorbitant bonuses for senior officials and intern trips to Palm Springs – it seems GSA focuses more on rewarding itself than on actually improving its management of properties.

“On top of that – there is no transparency in how much GSA spends out of the Federal Buildings Fund on these administrative costs. It’s as though GSA has a slush fund it can use with little or no oversight. This is unacceptable.

“And, in recent months, GSA’s slow response to this Committee’s requests for information has ground to a halt. Official congressional requests for basic information from GSA go unanswered. It took months for GSA to provide this Committee with basic information on its administrative costs and even then not all of our questions were answered.

“In July, Chairman Mica and I along with Chairwoman Emerson of the Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for GSA’s budget requested a briefing and written explanation from GSA on the legal reasoning on which it based its decision to proceed with the signing of a $350 million lease at the World Trade Center without approval by this Committee. The response we got from GSA was that it would not provide us with a briefing and a legal analysis would come in “due course” – that was more than a month ago.

“To date, GSA has not responded, leaving this Committee to believe GSA thinks it can go out and sign billion-dollar leases with no approval or oversight by anyone. On top of this, GSA continues to waste billions more on assets sitting idle and vacant.

“The legislation we consider today is common sense legislation to bring transparency and accountability back to GSA. It will also make clear GSA cannot bind the taxpayer to billion-dollar projects without specific approval.

“H.R. 6430 would – shrink the federal footprint by requiring GSA to reduce its space by 1 million square feet each year; require GSA cut the equivalent amount of space when seeking new space; require GSA to finally keep track of the actual utilization of space and make that information accessible to Congress; require GSA to report on its vacant buildings; and require GSA to detail to Congress each year its budget for administrative costs, including conferences, travel, bonuses.

“Despite the President’s own directives to freeze hiring and bonuses, GSA seemed to operate as if those directives did not apply to the agency.  To get a handle on this, H.R. 6430 would also – place a moratorium on bonuses for senior officials until a review can be completed on how GSA issues bonuses; limit GSA’s internship programs until the IG can review those programs; and shrink GSA’s workforce down to 2008 levels.

“Finally, the bill will set standards for new courthouses.  This Subcommittee has had hearing after hearing on the overbuilding of unneeded courthouses after the GAO found that over 3.5 million square feet of extra space was built in courthouses between 2000 to 2010, costing the taxpayer more than $800 million.

“Chairman Mica and I have tried to craft common sense legislation that would reduce costs, improve oversight and management, and ensure accountability in a way that will allow GSA to effectively carry out its mission. I look forward to moving this bill to the full Committee.”

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