Barletta Leads Hearing to Reduce Waste in Federal Real Estate, Save Taxpayer Dollars
WASHINGTON – Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11) today led a hearing examining ways to save taxpayers billions of dollars by implementing legislation to streamline the disposal of excess federal real estate. The Federal Assets Sale and Transfer Act (FASTA), which was signed into law in December 2016, creates a six-year pilot program to sell up to $8 billion worth of underutilized and vacant federal properties to create the best value for taxpayers.
During the hearing, Barletta discussed with Kevin Acklin, Chief of Staff for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, how FASTA’s implementation will help with the disposal of the vacant Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs (VA) property so that it can be reused by the city’s first responders and emergency services. Barletta addressed yesterday’s decision by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and General Services Administration (GSA) to cancel the FBI headquarters exchange procurement. Barletta stated that, while it is clear the FBI needs a consolidated headquarters, the previous administration took the wrong approach by proposing an exchange. Barletta encouraged the current administration to pursue a public-private partnership (P3) strategy to get the project back on track.
Pittsburgh VA Disposal
As chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, Barletta last month toured the 164-acre former VA property, which has been vacant since 2013. The federal government recently declared it as excess property. The city of Pittsburgh has proposed turning the site into a center to consolidate its law enforcement and emergency management functions, which are currently scattered throughout the city.
In his opening statement, Barletta noted that taxpayers have spent at least $300,000 this fiscal year to maintain the vacant Pittsburgh VA facility. The longer the facility sits vacant, the more it will deteriorate and increase costs to taxpayers.
“You would think the federal government would have a procedure in place to quickly dispose of this property,” Barletta said. “What would take a short time to get done in the private sector takes years in the federal government.”
Barletta stated that Pittsburgh’s approach to consolidating agency functions into unused federal space to free up properties for economic growth is an example of the benefits of FASTA.
“When these buildings are empty for three or four years, the real danger comes because the roof starts leaking, water gets in, and then the properties are worthless,” Barletta said, stressing that FASTA will streamline the disposal process of federal buildings to prevent such deterioration and save taxpayers money.
Acklin stated that the city has budgeted for the next five years assuming that the VA property disposal and law enforcement agency consolidation will move forward. City officials are working closely and communicating regularly with the federal government.
“This is a good deal. If it was a private sector deal, it would be done already,” Acklin said. “We’re spending public money [in Pittsburgh] because we have a vacant and abandoned site. Every dollar we spend to maintain vacant or abandoned property is one fewer dollar we can put into a police officer’s pocket who puts his life on the line every day.”
Barletta also addressed yesterday’s decision by the FBI and GSA to cancel the FBI headquarters exchange procurement. Barletta stated that, while the previous administration’s decision to pursue an exchange strategy killed this procurement, the need for a consolidated FBI headquarters remains, and a P3 is the best way forward.
Under the exchange strategy, the cost of the new FBI headquarters was to be covered in part by turning over ownership of the Hoover Building, where the FBI is currently headquartered, to the developer in charge of building the new, consolidated FBI campus. By structuring the procurement as an exchange, the previous administration precluded the developer from building the new headquarters in phases. Instead, the developer would have had to build the entire new facility before the FBI could move and hand over the Hoover Building as payment to the developer. That process could not happen because the project was not fully funded.
“This committee told the previous administration that exchanging the Hoover Building for a new headquarters was a mistake and would fail,” Barletta said. “I believe that a P3 is the only way to deliver a consolidated headquarters for the FBI. I am willing to do whatever I can to get [approval] to do this, and I hope that [GSA] will pursue such a strategy. We have the opportunity to fix this project and get it back on track. My question is, is GSA willing to pursue options such as these for acquiring a new consolidated FBI headquarters?”
Acting GSA Administrator Tim Horne agreed that the exchange structure coupled with lack of funding prevented the project from moving forward. He stated that GSA is “absolutely committed to working with [Barletta’s subcommittee] and the [Office of Management and Budget] on all options moving forward.”
“There is no doubt that the FBI consolidation is a priority for this administration and GSA,” Horne said.
Background on FASTA
FASTA implements reforms to shrink the size of government and ensure savings by selling or redeveloping high value properties, consolidating federal space, maximizing the utilization rates of space, and streamlining the disposal of unneeded assets.
The law establishes a Public Buildings Reform Board of members who will identify opportunities to reduce the real property inventory and make recommendations for the sale of up to $8 billion worth of underutilized and vacant federal properties. It also requires GSA to create and publish a single, comprehensive database of all federal real properties, including whether those properties are excess, surplus, underutilized, or unutilized to prevent a future stockpiling of unused and underutilized property.
FASTA moved through Barletta’s subcommittee on its way to becoming law last year. Through Barletta’s leadership, the subcommittee’s work has already saved taxpayers $3.4 billion through better stewardship of public buildings.
To view video of Barletta’s opening statement, click here.
To view video of Barletta’s exchange with Acklin and Horne, click here.