Bill to move agency pits FTC against National Gallery

A House panel on Wednesday approved a bill that would move the Federal Trade Commission out of a headquarters building constructed for it in the late 1930s, irking FTC commissioners but pleasing officials at the National Gallery of Art, which would benefit from the freed-up space.

The bill would "save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by authorizing [the General Services Administration] to move the FTC out of its aging, insufficient headquarters into government-owned space," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and sponsor of the legislation. "This will increase the efficiency of the agency and more effectively meet its office space requirements."

Mica's committee approved the measure (H.R. 690) by a voice vote.

Turning over the space just off the National Mall in Washington to the nearby gallery would allow the museum "to consolidate its multiple facilities, ensure that the necessary renovations for that building are funded by private donations and not taxpayer dollars, and maximize public use of this historic building," Mica said.

The move of some 700 FTC employees to create art exhibit space, he added, also would "strengthen the growing cultural vitality of this part of our nation's capital" while saving the gallery $137 million in renovation costs and $145 million in lease costs over 30 years.

Lawmakers did not dictate a site for FTC's new headquarters, but the bill and an accompanying resolution noted possible locations are Federal Building Number 8 in Southwest, 1800 F St. N.W., or any other Washington building GSA considers appropriate. The move would take place no later than the end of 2014.

On Wednesday, all five FTC commissioners came out against the plan. In a letter to the House panel, they said "a forced move of the FTC could impose additional costs on the American taxpayer from the need to replicate important functions of the FTC Building in a new building. As major examples, the FTC would have to build new courtrooms for conducting adjudications as well as replace its extensive information technology infrastructure, including infrastructure for tracking, investigating, and fighting online and offline fraud."

The commissioners warned of significant additional costs from the need for "finding new space for a federal agency that might be displaced by the FTC's move into a building that the other agency occupies or plans to occupy. And the taxpayers would still have to pay for the maintenance of the FTC Building," which the legislation proposes to rename National Gallery of Art-North.

Another potential problem is the impact on historic preservation, commission leaders said. "The FTC Building is part of the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site, which is registered under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966," they wrote in the letter. "As such, the building's exterior and countless features of its interior are protected by that act and its procedures. This includes the building's iconic man and horse statues, titled 'Man Controlling Trade.' "

The National Gallery, by contrast, welcomed the plan. "Expanding the National Gallery of Art to the FTC Building is a cost-saving initiative that would eliminate our need for federally funded leased space across the street on Pennsylvania Avenue," Director Earl A. Powell III said in a statement.

"We are committed to raising some $200 million or more in private funds to cover much-needed renovations that would enable us to provide space for exhibitions and for educational programs for all ages, as well as for the nation's growing art collection, which is donated or purchased with private funds," he said. "This initiative would further link the culturally vibrant Penn Quarter with the National Mall and bring more residents and tourists to the area."

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