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Chairs DeFazio, Titus Statements from Hearing on General Service Administration’s Priorities for 2021 and Beyond

November 02, 2021

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Dina Titus (D-NV) during today’s hearing titled, “The General Services Administration’s Priorities for 2021 and Beyond.”

Video of opening remarks from Chairs DeFazio and Titus are here and here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chair Titus. Administrator Carnahan, Commissioner Albert, welcome to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

The bread and butter of your work with this committee is securing the authorization of GSA construction, alteration, and leasing requests. In FY22 GSA requested consideration of 32 repair, alteration, and construction projects. As of last week, this committee had authorized 25 of those projects—proof of our good-faith effort to work with GSA.

This committee has also supported many of GSA’s infrastructure requests, which will provide significant new resources to assist the agency. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $3.4 billion for land ports of entry, and the Build Back Better Act includes $500 million to help green federal buildings. Outside of T&I’s jurisdiction, the Build Back Better Act includes significant funding for GSA for the procurement of zero-emission and electric vehicles, for emerging and sustainable technologies, and for the purchase of goods, services, and systems to improve energy efficiency, promote the purchase of lower-carbon materials, and reduce the carbon footprint.

And I, personally, want to work with GSA to make it easier to finance new construction projects. I’ve heard from previous Administrators about how frustrating it is that GSA is unable to use all the rent it has collected in the Federal Building Fund and reinvest it in our public assets. If we want to fix the growing backlog of deferred maintenance, GSA needs access to more of the funds it is collecting.

I believe that the new infrastructure funding and easier access to construction funding could really transform the Public Buildings Service. But Administrator Carnahan, we need GSA staff to be more responsive. Requests for technical assistance are taking too long, questions about agency space needs post-Covid have not been addressed. There is a culture within PBS of hiding from Congress, but that makes it difficult for us to help you.

I am hoping for transformational leadership under your guidance. Ask the big questions. Should GSA own more space that it can’t afford to maintain? What does it mean if Congress gives you less money then you request every year? What needs to change about GSA’s rent structure? How many courthouses does the federal judiciary really need? And how are you going to make 100% of the owned portfolio a high-performing green building?

Administrator Carnahan, your predecessor was challenging to work with. We still have unanswered questions about GSA’s failure to properly consider the Emoluments Clauses to the U.S. Constitution when evaluating the Old Post Office lease. No clarity about the cancellation of the decade-long effort to build a new headquarters for the FBI.

I hope for and expect more transparency under your leadership. Thank you, Chair Titus. I yield back the balance of my time.  

Chair Titus:

I’d like to welcome everyone to today’s hearing to examine the General Services Administration’s priorities for 2021 and beyond.

Joining us today are the Honorable Robin Carnahan, the Administrator of the GSA, and Nina Albert, the Public Buildings Services Commissioner.

Administrator Carnahan and Commissioner Albert, I want to first congratulate you on your confirmations and welcome you to the subcommittee.

I am hopeful that our relationship is remarkedly different than we had with your predecessors given the important role this subcommittee plays in your responsibilities.

Chief among our duties is the authorization of GSA’s acquisition of real property.

This does not include all transactions GSA engages in as the agency owns over 1,500 federal buildings and leases approximately 8,100 office buildings, courthouses, land ports of entry, data processing centers, laboratories, and specialized space – but it does include those construction, repair, and alteration projects that exceed $3.3 million, and lease transactions that exceed $1.6 million in annual rent.

In Fiscal Year 2022 GSA requested committee consideration of 32 repair, alteration, and construction projects.

As of last week, we have authorized 25 of those projects.

I will note however, that you have not submitted a single lease transaction for the committee’s consideration.

It would be helpful to have clarity around this as there are about 25 leases expiring between January of 2022 and December of 2025, and with sixty percent of Public Building Service leases expiring in the next few years, it is my hope that the government is reimagining and modernizing its real estate portfolio to address evolving worker and constituent needs post-COVID, as well as reducing the impact on the budget.

The federal government’s leasing program is often a focus of this subcommittee, and one particular outlease of a federal property is probably the highest profile is the Old Post Office Building here in Washington, D.C.

The lease is currently held by the Trump Organization in an arrangement that has been fraught with legal and ethical questions the moment Donald Trump took the oath of office, and according to media reports and confirmed by GSA may be in the process of being sold to a new lessor.

I hope that the transaction will not only benefit the American public but protects the sensitive law enforcement and national security assets that neighbor this property, and does not repeat the same substantial mistakes made by GSA in the management of the current lease as outlined by GSA’s Inspector General.

It was this subcommittee that directed GSA to redevelop this property and given the unique nature of this major outlease of one of the most prized pieces of federal real estate in the nation, it will remain a point of interest for me and this committee.

I ask for your commitment to ensure that we are kept abreast of any changes that may occur with the lease ownership and provide regular updates on the financials and other details of its operations, which your predecessors failed to do.

I know that we previously discussed draft legislation our staff has prepared and shared with your staff to reexamine the management of these major outleases and set parameters for GSA’s outleasing program moving forward.

I want to stress for you and for my colleagues on both sides of the aisle that I am not here to relitigate the decisions of the past which I found unethical and borderline illegal, and I know you both were not responsible for signing the lease or the decisions made when Donald Trump became president, but you do have a responsibility to manage this lease moving forward.

My goal, and I hope this is shared with all my colleagues, is to ensure that we do not make the same mistakes again.

I look forward to receiving feedback on this initial draft and I encourage your staff to respond expeditiously.

Thank you, Administrator Carnahan and Commissioner Albert, for being with us today and thank you in advance for answering our questions.

With that I recognize Ranking Member Webster for five minutes for an opening statement.

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