The Government Accounting Office has criticized maintenance at two buildings in Bethesda leased by the National Institutes of Health and, in a report released last week, said federal officials "have been ineffective" in persuading the buildings' owners to rectify the problems.
Last fall the buildings, known as the Westwood complex, were cited for fire hazards by the Montgomery County Fire Department. While action was taken within days by Westwood Management Inc. to eliminate the fire hazards, the report states that maintenance problems have persisted for most of the past seven years. Workers at Westwood offices told a reporter this week that no corporation officials were available for comment.
Donna Huber, a grants specialist who heads an organization representing the 1,200 NIH employes who work in the complex, said this week, "The buildings are dirty and continue to be dirty. . . . The roof still leaks, ceiling tiles are missing and electrical outlets stick up in the middle of the floor and occasionally get broken off and cause small fires."
The GAO criticized the General Services Adminstration, which handles the leasing and operation of all government offices, for failure to adequately enforce the leases.
"GSA informed the lessor (Westwood) seven times from 1973 to 1979 that it would exercise the government's right" to have outside contactors make repairs on the buildings and deduct the cost from the rent paid to Westwood, according to the GAO report. "However, it has not done so. GSA should more aggressively discharge its responsibility to see that public funds are not used to pay for services" not performed.
Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.), who had urged the GAO to investigate the problems, said this week he was pleased that the fire safety problems had been corrected and hoped the GAO report would help "resolve remaining maintenance difficulties."