July Heat in Washington

Rep. Mica presiding over the July 26th mark-up session.

This July is on pace to be not only the hottest month in U.S. history but also the hottest month in the ever-simmering feud between GSA and the House committee that oversees that agency. Perhaps it is the withering heat that sparked an unprecedented event that leaves us pondering the true balance of power between the Executive and Legislative branches.

On July 17th the GSA announced that it signed the 270,000 square foot lease housing its regional office at 1 World Trade Center (1WTC), doing so without prospectus authorization from the House of Representatives.  This has never happened. In fact, landlords who deal with GSA have heard again, and again, and again that GSA will not sign leases until the prospectuses are congressionally approved – even when the leases are months in holdover.

As we reported in June, the 1WTC lease had been poised for signature but the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee did not authorize the prospectus arguing that GSA had delivered it just hours prior to the committee’s mark-up session. Committee Chairman John Mica stated that he and his committee simply had not been given ample time to review the prospectus request, yet observers interpreted Mica’s (lack of) action as a retaliatory move in response to GSA’s recommendation that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) not relocate from its historic headquarters, culminating a years-long campaign by Mica to transfer ownership of FTC’s building to the National Gallery of Art.

With GSA and the House at loggerheads, and with air-cover from New York Senator Chuck Schumer, GSA’s senior leadership felt emboldened to move forward with the 1WTC lease execution anyway. Though GSA undoubtedly felt urgency to get the lease done, we must observe that 1 World Trade Center is still under construction.  GSA is not slated to occupy its space until 2015. The more jaded landlords and federal agencies are left to speculate that GSA reserves this type of bold move only for when its own lease is on the line.

Yet, it’s clear that something bold needed to happen. The week after GSA signed the 1WTC lease the House (yesterday) finally issued 12 lease prospectus resolutions, more than half of which had been languishing since 2010, including from September 10th of that year. If you are counting, that is 685 days for approval.  Clearly the process is broken and now, perhaps, GSA has tossed it.

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