May 27, 2011

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid the cornerstone for the Federal Trade Commission’s headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue in the 1930s, he noted both the historic significance of the act and the cost savings. Roosevelt said it made “good business sense” to move agencies out of expensive and “scattered” space to “save taxpayers’ money.”

It was true then, and it’s just as true today.

The FTC’s now-aging headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, commonly known as the Apex building, once met the agency’s needs well, but today FTC operations are scattered across the city. Meanwhile, across the street, the National Gallery of Art badly needs space. The solution is obvious: Relocate the FTC to appropriately modern offices elsewhere in the city and turn over the Apex building to the gallery, which can use it to expand its public exhibit space and educational facilities while opening a classic building to millions of visitors and D.C. residents.

Such a move would certainly meet Roosevelt’s other criterion: “good business sense.” We estimate that taxpayers would be saved about $270 million in construction, leasing and renovation costs over continuing the current arrangement.

The historic 1937 Apex building houses less than 40 percent of FTC’s employees, and because of the building’s age and configuration, the agency only uses a little over half of the structure’s 306,000 square feet. The Apex building is simply inefficient for today’s office requirements. The FTC rents space in other locations and recently requested congressional approval for even more leased space.

Meanwhile, the National Gallery also requires costly leasing to fulfill its mission. Currently, the gallery is able to display only a fraction of its collection. The FTC building would be a natural exhibition locale.

Our proposal would require the National Gallery to renovate and preserve the Apex building with privately raised funds, saving at least $140 million. In addition, we estimate that another $145 million could be saved over 30 years through the elimination of the gallery’s need to lease space. Additional savings and efficiencies can be realized by relocating the FTC into more functional space.

Critics may note that the Congressional Budget Office recently assigned a potential cost to our proposal. But this was based on the assumption that a new $300 million, 650,000-square-foot headquarters would be built for the FTC. That’s not necessary, however. With 63 million square feet of government-owned space in Washington, an office can be found to accommodate the FTC employees in the Apex building, who number fewer than 500. Our proposal neither authorizes nor funds any building construction, and our final legislation will clarify that point.

It is important to note that the benefits of this plan extend beyond cost savings. This proposal fits into the historical context of Pennsylvania Avenue. In the 1920s, Congress took steps to transform Pennsylvania Avenue into the Grand Avenue envisioned by Pierre L’Enfant. Today, the American people are the beneficiaries of that work, and Congress has a responsibility to ensure this vision continues for future generations of Americans.

Washington has a rich history of preserving, reusing and recycling its federal buildings. For example, the Patent Office Building became the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The General Post Office and Tariff Building is now the Hotel Monaco. And the former U.S. Pension Bureau’s headquarters now serves as the National Building Museum.

Our proposal would respect the history of the FTC’s Apex building, expand public access to our nation’s cultural treasures and restore a historic, federally owned building at no cost to taxpayers. It would open the building to millions, preserve their national treasures and ensure that the District continues to be not only the political but also the cultural capital of our nation.

Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) is chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.) is ranking Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee on interior, environment and related agencies.