Election 2012 is, mercifully, behind us. President Obama’s term is renewed, albeit by a fairly narrow majority of the popular vote. Most Representatives and Senators are also back for another term and though some seats changed the overall result is that the 113th Congress will look almost exactly like the much-reviled 112th. Can anything be different when the balance of political leadership looks the same?
Without the glare of election year politics shining down upon the Executive and Legislative branches it’s possible that more will get done–and there is plenty to do, including developing a strategy to address the looming Fiscal Cliff. We also wonder if there will be some movement in the public buildings area. This is one topic where both parties have shared the same fundamental viewpoint, especially as relates to the need to more effectively dispose of unused and underutilized real estate. Both the House and Senate have offered versions of legislation that, at their core, seek to accomplish pretty much the same thing. Only the means are different and we would expect that some compromise can be found in the next two years.
We also expect the activist and relentless supervision of GSA to continue, especially from the House. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the body that provides oversight for public buildings issues, will see a change in leadership. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is expected to take over as Chairman, replacing Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.). Mica, a former real estate developer has been a vigorous participant in public buildings affairs, having led the “Stop Sitting On Our Assets” campaign and having engaged in a number of skirmishes with GSA relating to conference spending, the FTC headquarters and prospectuses.
Throughout all of this Rep. Shuster has been relatively silent. If, as Chairman, he does not embrace Mica’s zeal for real estate issues then we expect the balance of authority to shift further to Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Ca.) who is entering his second term as chair of the House Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management. Denham has been an aggressive subcommittee leader, even though a freshman Congressman. Now in his second term we expect him further assert his leadership. He is the sponsor of the Civilian Property Realignment Act (H.R. 1734), legislation that seeks to address unneeded federal real estate. He is also a co-sponsor of the Public Buildings Reform Act. These bills provide ample insight to Denham’s thinking on government property issues.
On the Senate side, the key figures in the Committee on the Environment and Public Works and the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure will all be returning in January. Most notably, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) will be back to further champion his Federal Real Property Asset Management Reform Act, a bill designed to improve real property asset management, dispose of unneeded properties and reduce reliance on leasing. His legislative effort bears some basic similarities to Rep. Denham’s Civilian Property Realignment Act and it has the support of several Republican senators as well.
So, even if the normal gridlock continues we expect public buildings issues to gain traction. In fact, they represent a rare opportunity for a show of bi-partisanship.