One federal executive's view on real property

The Federal Real Property Association (FRPA) kicked off the 2014 program with an all-star panel of General Service Administration (GSA) real property leaders. Headed by Dr. Dorothy Robyn, Commissioner, Public Buildings Service, the 90 minute panel discussion was loaded with insights into GSA’s agenda, priorities, and challenges. I’ll plan to share highlights in the coming days. 

To start?  Dr. Robyn shared two factors impeding GSA’s ability to “do better” (my words, not hers—she’s much more polished) federal real property management.

  • The first issue, not surprisingly, is about money. Over the last three years, Congress diverted about $5 billion from the Federal Building Fund—GSA’s rent repository and primary fund source.
  • The second issue is really more of what Dr. Robyn sees as a missed opportunity to get serious about disposition and consolidation through a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process-like process.

On funding, her plea was for Congress to stop raiding rent money to cover other programs and expenses. Losing about $1.5 billion per year over the last three years has hurt GSA’s ability to keep up with the repairs, moves, purchases, upgrades, and consolidations needed (and expected) by their federal agency customers. Part of the problem is that rent for federal agencies is set specifically to cover operating and maintenance costs—not earn a profit.  So, there is no slack built in. Diverting funds from this core account means revamping, rescoping, and cancelling investments in these facilities that have been planned and anticipated for many years. This is not only disappointing for their federal customers but introduces additional risk to their mission, inefficiencies such as wasted energy, and added costs to run facilities in “break-down mode” (only fixing things as they break, as opposed to, on a planned replacement cycle.)

Her second message was really more of a forward-looking request for the legislative support to initiate a BRAC process.  This long discussed, seemingly politically tricky (or impossible) initiative, in Dr. Robyn’s assessment, would got a long way to address some inefficiencies and avoid future costs.

While she was speaking about GSA, these points really apply to all federal real property owners. An increased focus backed by broader authorities for making sound management decisions is desperate needed.