CPRA is Unwelcome News for Independent Agencies

This week the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1734, known as the Civilian Property Realignment Act (CPRA), with voting carried by the Republican-led House, largely along party lines. The legislation describes its purpose as “To decrease the deficit by realigning, consolidating, selling, disposing, and improving the efficiency of Federal buildings and other civilian real property, and for other purposes.” If you read a bit deeper, you get a sense of what one of those “other purposes” is. There is a single sentence buried twenty sections into the bill that would dramatically impact federal leasing – and it has little to do with BRAC. That sentence begins: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no executive agency may lease space for the purposes of a public building…”  And, with that, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation and a host of other agencies with independent leasing authority stand to lose the authority to lease space on their own.  The law (if passed) will now require that these agencies utilize and pay for GSA’s services.

This prohibition is in direct retribution for the SEC’s poorly-conceived 900,000 SF lease at Washington, DC’s Constitution Center project in the Summer of 2010. Yet, most independent agencies feel that Congress is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. These agencies have fought this provision because most have effectively managed their own real estate affairs for years.  In their view, GSA is focused on process and not results. The independent agencies feel they can do the job faster and better than GSA.

However, there is another issue which is the simple problem of capacity.  GSA is already struggling under the load of its current responsibilities. The President made exactly this observation in a Statement of Administration Policy dated February 6th. In it, the Obama Administration noted that “Mandating that GSA alone exercise leasing authority in an abrupt and unplanned fashion could create capacity issues for GSA, as well as unintended consequences for agencies that currently exercise independent leasing authority responsibly.”

CPRA has not yet been voted on in the Senate, though the Senate version of the legislation is nearly identical to that passed by the House, and it includes the same restriction on leasing authority.