An example of how Reagan administration appointees at the General Services Administration have sought to make the agency a more vital part of the triumvirate charged with better managing the federal government came from an unlikely source recently, the General Accounting Office.
Along with the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management, GSA stands as a housekeeping agency, yet one that has traditionally bent to the will of the congressman seeking a helping hand. One of those perquisites has been to request a federal office building in a town in a home state or congressional district--never mind, long-time GSA hands say, whether that building was needed.
But now, for the first time, the GAO has said that GSA properly analyzed the request for a new building and determined it was unnecessary.
The House Public Works and Transportation Committee, backed by Sen. Edward J. Zorinsky (D-Neb.), made a request for a new, $32 million building in Omaha in 1978. The GSA under the Carter administration, as tradition dictated, quickly agreed and began planning the 200,100-square-foot structure.
But in 1982, when funds would first have to be sought for the construction, GSA regional field hands appointed by a Reagan appointee--GSA administrator Gerald P. Carmen--complained to the top that the building wasn't really needed. With jaw affixed, GSA Public Buildings Commissioner Richard O. Haase informed Capitol Hill and Zorinsky.
GSA and Capitol Hill engaged in a similar flap in Massachusetts this year when another of Carmen's appointees, regional administrator Porter D. Leighton, said a proposed federal building in Boston was unnecessary. That building, which at one time was supposed to be named after House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr., a Democrat, was deemed necessary by both Haase and Carmen. Leighton resigned over the incident.
Both Carmen and Haase believe that the structure, when it goes up, should be named after a former government official not a sitting Speaker. GSA insiders say that the name, John A. Volpe Federal Office Building, in honor of the former Nixon administration official and governor, is at the top of the list.
In the Nebraska situation, Haase says that he told Zorinsky that the Omaha building would be scratched from GSA's construction plan because reductions in the federal workforce would allow government employes to fit comfortably in the space now available. Haase said Zorinsky warned him that a GAO audit would attempt to verify GSA's facts.
In that report, dated Sept. 30, GAO General Government Division director William J. Anderson said, "We believe GSA's decision to cancel the construction project proposed in 1978 was appropriate."
Zorinsky says he is "disappointed" but adds: "At the same time . . . I have said I would not advocate building a structure that is not needed." GAO's decision, Zorinsky added, "leaves me few options other than to go along with GSA's wishes."
The House Public Works Committee this week began taking more testimony from GSA and other agencies about what should be in the Public Buildings Act of 1983, a plan that could revamp the way the agency operates federal buildings.
A Senate version of the bill ends the decade-old experiment of imposing a "standard-level users charge" on federal agencies for the space that they occupy. This "rental" payment was designed to make agencies conscious of the costs of the space that they are occupying, since almost half of it is in leased buildings and costs the government more than $800 million a year.
Sen. Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.) said in Senate debate last month that the bill "will abolish the federal buildings fund and return us to a more orderly procedure of making direct appropriations for the public buildings programs."
"We're opposed to that position," said PBS Commissioner Haase, "because that would weaken the space management initiative by the president and return us to the time when agencies ask for more and more without understanding the cost to the taxpayers."
Stafford argues that the so-called SLUC charges are by law supposed to be equivalent to the commercial rental rates but "unlike most Americans, however, the agencies have recourse to a form of rent control." They can have OMB or their appropriations subcommittees prohibit the GSA from collecting increases in SLUC charges that are dictated by the law's requirement that GSA charge commercially equivalent rates. In four of the last 10 years, Stafford adds, agencies have been able to get a ban put in place and appropriations actions in fiscal 1983 cost the fund $337 million in anticipated revenues.
In the Senate's version of the Public Buildings Authorization Act of 1983, another bill pending before the House, are cuts in the Reagan administration's programs that will have a major impact on four local projects. Zeroed-out are renovation projects for the Naval Intelligence Center in Suitland ($9.76 million), the Auditors Building at 14th Street and Independence Avenue ($9.27 million), Blair House ($6.5 million) and the Pension Building ($2.65 million). Haase hopes that House action will restore each of the cuts and "$20 million that they zapped for opportunity purchases," one of his pet projects that involves buying buildings that come on the market at the right price in areas that they are needed.
Paul E. Chistolini has been named assistant commissioner of the Public Buildings Service for buildings management. Chistolini will be in charge of all policies pertaining to more than 5,000 leased and 2,500 owned federal buildings. Chistolini has been with GSA for nearly a decade, starting in a management training program after graduating from college. He has served as deputy assistant commissioner since August 1982 and as acting assistant commissioner since his predecessor, Bertrand G. Berube, was ousted this summer.