May 1, 2001Congress should give the General Services Administration the legislative authority to use new means of paying for much-needed fixes to aging federal buildings, according to a new study by the General Accounting Office. GSA manages and maintains approximately 1,700 federal buildings, acting as the government's landlord. At the end of fiscal 1999, GSA estimated that more than $4 billion was needed to repair and upgrade federal buildings. "There is ample evidence to suggest that many of the government's aged buildings are deteriorating, becoming functionally obsolete and have health and safety-related problems because needed repairs and alterations are not being made in a timely manner," said the report, "Federal Buildings: Funding Repairs and Alterations Has Been a Challenge--Expanded Financing Tools Needed" (GAO-01-452). Leaky roofs; bad plumbing; poor heating, cooling and ventilation systems; and windows painted shut with flaking lead-based paint are just some of the conditions GAO chronicled in the report. At the Census Bureau building in Suitland, Md., GSA must provide bottled water for employees because the building's water is contaminated. In fiscal 2000, Census reported more than 500 leaks at the facility, many of which caused damage to ceilings, furniture and equipment. According to the report, GSA officials have known about these problems for some time, but nothing has been done because the building is too far down the list of priorities when compared with other GSA buildings needing repairs. GAO found that the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington has seriously deteriorated electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and water supply systems. Moreover, the building's 100-year-old sewer system backs up constantly, posing a potential health risk. But despite the $25.2 million allocated in fiscal 1999 to fix the building, an estimated $216 million is still needed for repairs that have lingered since 1984, the report said. "GSA believes that funding limitations will likely continue to be a major roadblock in reducing the significant backlog of repair and alteration requirements. Without adequate funding, the backlog of repair and alteration needs will continue to grow, some federal buildings will continue to have health and safety concerns, and others may deteriorate to the point where federal [employees] and visitors may be subjected to worsening health and safety conditions," the report said. GAO suggested that Congress allow GSA's administrator to experiment with different funding methods, such as entering into public-private partnerships and keeping the proceeds from the sale of unneeded assets. GSA agreed with the report's findings, conceding that the federal buildings under the agency's care are becoming more obsolete and are in need of major repair.
May 1, 2001