If you think you've got problems with the cost of house and home, consider what is happening to the federal government: its annual rent bill, now about $600 million, is expected to hit $1 billion in 1983.
The rising rent flows from a decision made 13 years ago in the Johnson administration primarily to lease rather than build new office space. It was done mainly to make the budget look smaller; annual rents are less awesome than full construction costs. But it has proved a bonanza for landlords, all finally has set off alarm bells in Congress, where members are worried about money lost down the rental drain.
Since Johnson started the rental policy, leased space has more than doubled, while federal white-collar employment has increased only by about 110,000. The situation has reached a point where about half of the federal labor force of 2.7 million works in leased quarters.
Congressional concern is such that a bill introduced by Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Robert T. Stafford (R-Va.) to drastically overhaul the federal building program has drawn quick support.
The Moynihan-Stafford bill proposes to get the government fully back into the far more economical business of building its own quarters, and sets a goal of getting 80 percent of the work force into federally owned space in 10 years.
Their Public Buildings Act of 1979, cosponsored by all 14 members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, is expected to be approved quickly by the panel early next year.
The bill envisions a shakeup at the General Services Adminstration, which oversees federal buildings, through a top-to-bottom revamping of building policy and goes beyond the issue of leasing.
Shaken by the GSA fraud and corruption scandals and unable to get a clear picture of the hugh federal building management program, the committee earlier this year put a ban on all but emergency construction and leasing.
One offshoot of the moratorium is the Moynihan-Stafford bill, an amalgam of various legislative proposals aimed at shaping up the GSA and its Public Buildings Service, which this year has a $1.4 billion budget.
In addition to curbing lease arrangements, the bill would require GSA to submit to Congress, for review by both chambers, a yearly building and maintenance plan.
GSA currently operates without a plan and needs approval by the House and Senate Public Works committees to start a new building -- a sort of "spoils" approach that has allowed the most influential members of Congress to get buildings for their home districts.
The bill would finance new construction by allowing GSA to borrow money from the Treasury, as a home-owner might deal with a bank, and require competitions to select private architects to design new structures.
Unwritten is a story of the legislation is a story of one of the most controversial, informal and influence-ridden programs of the federal government: building and leasing activities.
With virtually no congressional oversight during the past 20 years (it has seemed "tedious and without much reward," Stafford says), the building program has gone in its own wavering direction.
Politics help to determine which cities get new federal buildings. Leases go to friends of politicians and GSA officials. Sites are sometimes chosen without regard to convenience. Top-security programs are lodged in porous rental buildings.
But the heart of the Moynihan-Stafford bill is aimed at ending the leasing arrangements that are lucrative for building owners, but which leave the government with only a stack of rent stubs.
Under one form, called lease-construct, GSA agrees to long-term occupancy of a privately owned building that an entrepreneaur effects. With the GSA committment in hand, financing comes easily and a profitable enterprises is on its way.
A recent General Accounting Office study pointed up the costliness of this approach. GAO noted that federally constructed buildings recover their cost by their 14th year. Every year after that is, in effect, money saved for Uncle Sam.
For example, GSA is considering a lease-construct plan to build a new headquarters for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. If built by GSA, it would cost $79 million. On lease-construct, it would cost the government $120 million in rent alone over 20 years.
"We must do something about this situation," says Moynihan. To get around that construction outlay problem, the bill insructs GSA to borrow from the Treasury and pay the money back with interest.
A similar financing proposal has been introduced in the House by Rep. Elliott H. Levitas (D-Ga.), but it does not include the other sweeping provisions of the Moynihan-Stafford package.