The Background on Mica vs FTC

The historic Apex Building is the object of the power struggle between Rep. Mica and the FTC

Since 2005, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) has been attempting to transfer the historic Apex Building from the FTC—which has been headquartered  there since the building opened in 1938 —to the National Gallery of Art (NGA).  Mica, a former real estate developer, claims this would ensure that taxpayers do not have to foot the bill for renovating the aging, federally owned structure (instead, renovations would be funded by private donations) and eliminate the need for the NGA to lease additional space, thus saving taxpayers nearly $300 million. On four occasions Mica has attempted to pass legislation forcing this relocation, yet these previous legislative efforts failed to pass both the House and Senate.

In his most recent gambit, Mica inserted language into Section 24 of H.R. 1734, the Civilian Property Realignment Act—which the House passed on February 7 and referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works the following day.  This language calls for the transfer of the Apex Building to the NGA, stating that “… not later than December 31, 2012, the Administrator of General Services shall transfer administrative jurisdiction, custody, and control of the building located at 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW… to the National Gallery of Art for the purpose of housing and exhibiting works of art and to carry out administrative functions and other activities relating to [its] mission” and that, from the date the NGA occupies the building, it “shall be known and designated as the ‘North Building of the National Gallery of Art.’” The section also requires the NGA to raise private funds to renovate the building, and calls for the FTC to relocate to “not more than 160,000 usable square feet of space in the southwest quadrant of the building known as Constitution Center” that has already been leased (but not occupied) by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

On March 8, Mica’s committee directed GSA, which handles leasing for the FTC, to develop a detailed plan for a new headquarters office at Constitution Center (400 7th Street, SW). It gave GSA 30 days to develop floor plans, set space/employee requirements, and present this information to the committee for approval. An FTC move to Constitution Center would enable the SEC to give up its remaining lease obligations in the building.  After that—and after the scandal over GSA’s lavish spending on a 2010 Las Vegas conference—Mica raised the issue with GSA Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini at a meeting on April 19, after which Mica said in a statement to Government Executive that “I briefed him on the pending proposal and request regarding the FTC, and given the GSA’s current circumstances, I agreed to allow more time for the agency to respond to the committee’s request for information.” In the meantime, Mica has held up approval of prospectus resolutions as we reported last week.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz

FTC commissioners oppose the proposed transfer and argued, in a March 7 letter to Mica and other committee members, that “to require the agency to move out of its historic headquarters building, which still suits the agency and its mission, would impose well over $100 million in wholly unnecessary costs. This unprecedented giveaway,” the letter continued, “would be completely contrary to the interests of American taxpayers, especially in this time of fiscal austerity.” The commissioners went on to state that “it is completely infeasible for the FTC to shoehorn its entire Washington, DC operation into the available space at Constitution Center.” They sent an additional statement on April 18, in which they once again opposed the proposed move as expensive and wasteful. The American Antitrust Institute also expressed its concerns to the committee in a March 13 letter, noting that “moving the Commission into space that the agency has stated is inadequate for its purposes is likely to harm its mission as well.”

Yesterday, finally, GSA issued the information report Mica requested, yet the report’s conclusions are unlikely to satisfy the congressman.  Now we wonder if prospectuses will be held up further or finally approved.