The General Services Administration plans to hire consultants to aid in real estate negotiations because it is concerned about the federal government's ability to obtain office leases at the lowest possible prices.
The consultants are likely to be hired by many of GSA's 11 regional offices and its headquarters unit. GSA officials said the consultants could be involved in a wide range of duties, including advising contracting officials on negotiating techniques and market conditions.
Lester L. Mitchell, GSA's public buildings commissioner, said in an interview in December that the new plan should "not only give us a better perspective on what is taking place out there in the marketplace, but allow us to get a better deal."
Mitchell charged that federal landlords "are interested in only one thing: milking the federal government like cows lined up in a dairy. We know what kind of game they're playing, and we're just tired of it. The government generally does not get the best deal possible."
He said the initiative was the "first serious effort in 10 to 15 years to control the cost of renting space for federal offices from the private sector."
Leasing costs for GSA have escalated from $633 million in fiscal 1981 to $805 million in fiscal 1984, according to Charline Keith, Mitchell's senior aide.The figure is expected to increase to about $865 million in fiscal 1985, she said.
Al Iudicello, GSA's director of planning, said "we're always looking for creative ways to do things better. Our deals should reflect our buying power."
One area where consultants may be valuable is helping GSA determine the proper rate of return that a building owner should get when space is leased to the government, Iudicello said.
He disputed some of Mitchell's remarks and defended GSA's record.
"We're doing a fine job now at the negotiating table. I'm not sure he meant that," Iudicello said. But he agreed that "we're not getting consistently the best deal." Iudicello said additional training programs are planned to bring the skills of the bureaucrats up to the level of their private-sector counterparts.
Iudicello said turnover on the leasing staffs is high because government employes aren't paid enough to encourage them to stay and refine their skills. In GSA's National Capital Region, which handles leases for the District, suburban Maryland and Virginia, there are 18 leasing specialists, and the annual turnover rate is about 25 percent.
"This turnover rate is a serious problem," he said.
David Bibb, GSA's director of leasing, said it's too early to say how the new proposal will unfold.
Bibb said consultants could be useful at GSA headquarters giving "policy-setting" advice, as well as helping to make broad market analyses.