The federal government has paid at least $1.2 million so far for unoccupied office space in a controversial leased building at Buzzard Point in the District of Columbia, according to a General Services Administration official.
The building on the Anacostia River, shunned by several government agencies as too remote, has remained more than 50 per cent vacant for the first 10 months of the government's five-year, $2.7 million annual lease there.
Several federal agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and Treasury, have resisted pressure from the GSA to move into the building, but now empty offices in the building are expected to be filled finally with Department of Defense employees forced out of the Forrestal Building by employees of the new Energy department.
"We expect to have it fully occupied by the end of December," said Jack Galuardi, regional administrator for the GSA. Galuardi said that the GSA had paid $1.2 million for vacant, unassigned space in the building as of Aug. 31. The figure might have been more, but the GSA was given a four-month delay in the date on which the agency had to begin paying rent.
"We aren't exactly happy that we don't have people in there, but on the other hand, we're ordered people in there, and because of due process they're not there," said Galuardi. Galuardi defended the building as a good building and said newspapers and bad publicity were to blame, in part for government workers' reluctance to move to the building.
"I think the newspapers have caused a hell of a lot of fear of the area down there which is not appropriate," he said.
The building's troubles began in June, 1975, when the GSA signed contracts to lease the building, which had not yet been constructed. GSA did so, planning to make the building headquarters for the Securities and Exchange Commission, over the strong objections of SEC Chairman Ray Garett Jr. He called the site "lonely and desolate" as wells as unsafe.
Garrett appealed the GSA decision to move the agency to the building at Half Street SW and the Anacostia River. In January, 1976, the Office of Management and Budget overturned the GSA decision.
The government had been scheduled to start paying rent in August, 1976, and announced at about that time that the Buzzard Point office building had to be filled before it would find other space for agencies that could use its facilities.
On Dec. 15, 1976, with the building still unoccupied, the government began paying its $225,000 monthly rent.
The building remained vacant for 2 1/2 months after the government began paying rent on it. In March the Federal Bureau of Investigation made the first of two moves into the building, followed by a GSA manager and a task force of the President's reorganization team. Defense Department employees, moving from the Forrestal Building to make way for the new Department of Energy, are expected to begin moving in about November 1.
"We manage 225 million square feet of space nationwide. What's vacant there is frankly just a drop in the bucket," said Richard Vawter, spokesman for the GSA. The building is not remote - "it's actually 6/10 of a mile from the Capitol," said Vawter. "This is a fine building in an area which can benefit from a federal building," he said.
Employees moving to the building have complained that the area is not well served by public transportation and does not have many shops or places to go during lunch.
"It has been a mystery to me why federal employees need 10 restaurants before they are happy," said Vawter.
The building's principal owner is Dr. Laszlo N. Tauber, a physician who is also a principal owner of several other GSA-leased buildings, including the Parklawn building in Rockville, massive headquarters for 6,000 Health, Education and Welfare employees. He also owns a second building on Buzzard Point which houses 2,000 Department of Transportation workers.
City officials, the National Park Service and the National Capital Planning Commission all originally objected to the GSA signing a lease on the building, because the building would be constructed where a park had been planned.
"In a way, it's too bad it's there," said Kirk White of the city's Municipal Planning Office. "Now the effort will have to be to gild the lily so ultimately people don't mind going down there to work," he said. CAPTION: Picture, Buzzard Point building, where U.S. has paid $1.2 million in rent for space other U.S. workers don't want. By Douglas Chevalier - The Washington Post