Another federal agency has acknowledged leasing more space that it needs.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has long occupied two office buildings in White Flint, along Rockville Pike, and in 2009 agreed to lease an entire third building next door, 3 White Flint, at 11601 Landsdown S. in North Bethesda.
But like the Securities & Exchange Commission, which signed a 10-year, $556.8 million lease for what later turned out to be more than double the space it actually needed, the NRC now acknowledges that has not been using and ultimately doesn’t need much of the space in 3 White Flint and has asked the General Services Administration to advise it on how best to make use of the space in the future.
At a Wednesday hearing, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), chairman of the subcommittee overseeing public buildings, reprimanded R. William Borchardt, executive director for operations at the NRC, for the agency’s having going around usual leasing procedures to score appropriations for a $350 million lease in the third, brand-new building after the House had approved a space request for only about one-third the size.
The NRC has since requested that it be allowed to continue to lease 2 White Flint for another 20 years, which Barletta said was a difficult case to make given that the agency has not occupied all of the brand-new building next door and now says it never will.
“To sit through this and have federal agencies say they would prefer bigger space and would prefer spending more money to have nicer facilities and nicer space — well, I can tell you there are senior citizens that would prefer having heat.” Barletta said. “Mr. Borchardt, this is not acceptable.”
Borchardt testified that the agency, which regulates all 102 U.S. nuclear power plants, was undergoing tremendous growth when it pushed for the third building to meet a potential resurgence in nuclear power production and to address safety concerns such as those posed by the Three Mile Island nuclear accident from 1979.
“As a result of that we were authorized for both an increase in staffing levels as well as an authorization to construct the 3 White Flint building,” Borchardt said. Since then, he said, the agency had downsized both its staffing needs and its space requirements per employee.
But like the SEC, the nuclear agency went around the GSA to win appropriations to get additional space and is now asking the GSA for help finding another tenant to take the empty space.
During an exchange with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Dorothy Robyn, commissioner of the GSA’s Public Buildings Service, said “this is a situation that occurred because NRC went to the appropriators” and didn’t work with the GSA in the first place.
Borchardt argued that the best scenario going forward was for the NRC to extend its lease at 2 White Flint and offer “several floors” of the 3 White Flint building to other agencies. But Barletta wondered why the government would extend a lease next to a building that was still largely unoccupied.
“You had a real tough argument today and I don’t think you made it,” he told Borchardt.
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