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Lawmaker goes to bat for Maryland on GSA facility leases

Chart showing office and warehouse space in the washington metro area
By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2010

A lawmaker who represents Maryland is questioning how the General Services Administration selects facilities to lease for federal agencies, suggesting the government's primary landlord has bypassed commercial high-rise office space in Prince George's County in favor of locations in the District and Northern Virginia.

County officials think their communities have missed out on the residential and retail development enjoyed by Ballston and Clarendon in Arlington County or the District's NoMa corridor as thousands of federal workers move into new high-rise buildings and spend thousands of dollars each year at bars, restaurants, dry cleaners and clothing stores.

Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.) raised concerns about two recent GSA solicitations seeking office space for the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security at a House subcommittee hearing late last week. Changes made to the original solicitations regarding ceiling heights and zoning restrictions made it impossible for Prince George's locations to compete for the leases, Edwards said.

"This prospectus, given what's required in the zoning and planning process, means that one jurisdiction would never be able to compete," said Edwards, whose district includes portions of Prince George's and Montgomery County.

"GSA has to come up with an answer for why it has created the kind of disparity in this region that has left an entire community out of GSA competition," she said.

Edwards's comments come amid a five-year battle between Prince George's officials and the GSA over the type of facilities it leases in the county. The agency collected $1.7 billion in rent from federal agencies in fiscal 2009 for 55 million square feet of office and warehouse space in the Washington region.

GSA leases a higher percentage of warehouse space in Prince George's than in any other county in the region. Prince George's is also home to large federal office campuses, including the U.S. Census Bureau headquarters and NOAA Satellite Operations Center in Suitland and a Food and Drug Administration laboratory in College Park.

Kwasi Holman, president of the Prince George's County Economic Development Corporation, said warehouses and office campuses don't generate the type of ancillary economic benefits that attract private businesses and retail outlets. Holman cited a National Trust for Historic Preservation study that federal workers spend about $5,000 annually on goods and services at retail outlets near their office buildings.

"We're trying to break a cycle that has most of the office leases going to the western part of the region as opposed to the eastern part of the region," he said. "The only way to do that is to allow us to compete for these solicitations on a fair basis."

Bart Bush, a GSA regional commissioner for the Washington region, said the agency "is committed to maintaining a strong federal presence in Prince George's County and will continue to ensure that Prince George's County is given fair and competitive access to government leases as the area office market continues to develop." The agency occupies 17 percent of the county's available office space and owns or leases a higher percentage of the county's office market than any other Maryland or Virginia county's, Bush said.

"Prince George's County has a smaller amount of developed office space, and we're renting a higher proportion of available office space in Prince George's County than any other county in the region except for D.C.," Bush said.

Edwards and Holman disputed that the county lacks developed office space, noting that it is home to 15 Metrorail stations and dozens of locations that meet GSA space requirements in Bowie, College Park, Greenbelt, Largo, Laurel, New Carrollton, the National Harbor hotel site and Suitland.

"It just begs the question of why it is, what it is about the process that disfavors Prince George's County," Edwards said in an interview.

"I guess what I want is parity, transparency and a sense that there's an even playing field for areas to compete around the region," she said.

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