Nuclear Regulatory Commission building, Three White Flint North, North Bethesda. (Jonathan O'Connell)

Another federal agency has forfeited office space after being scolded by Congress for leasing more real estate than it needed while the rest of the government cuts back.

In 2009, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission agreed to a $350 million lease for a new office building, 3 White Flint, at 11601 Landsdown St. in Montgomery County. The agency, which regulates all 102 U.S. nuclear power plants, already occupied two buildings next door and expected that it would grow rapidly to oversee nuclear power expansion.

But some of that growth never materialized. NRC leaders later determined that the agency would not need the third building, and members of a House subcommittee sharply criticized agency leadership at a spring hearing.

The miscue brought to mind a 10-year, $556.8 million lease the Securities and Exchange Commission sought that turned out to be more than double the space it needed.

Determining what to do with the extra White Flint space fell to the General Services Administration, which manages real estate for the federal government. The GSA’s solution was to move parts of the Food and Drug Administration to the third building.

The GSA also extended NRC’s lease for the first two buildings for five years. That will give the GSA time to determine the best long-term location for the NRC, either by signing a long-term extension at White Flint or moving the agency elsewhere, the GSA said in a statement.

“This interim lease will house NRC while GSA conducts a full and open competition for office space that will meet the NRC’s long-term housing needs in this region,” a GSA statement said.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has lauded the solution for saving taxpayers nearly $150 million over 15 years.

Both agencies will also be working in smaller spaces under the arrangement, Shuster said. The NRC will occupy an average of 200 square feet per employee, while the FDA will have an average of 170 square feet per employee.

Republicans in the House, led by Shuster and Rep. Lou Barletta (Pa.), chairman of the subcommittee overseeing public buildings, continue to urge government agencies to squeeze their real estate footprint. At a hearing last week, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved measures to reduce Customs and Border Protection’s space allocation from 140,650 square feet to 109,000 square feet. The U.S. Marshals Service, which is in 412,238 square feet, will occupy just 371,000 square feet.

“Americans across the country continue to face an economy that requires them to tighten their belts and make the best use of limited financial resources. Federal agencies must do the same — in fact, they need to set the example,” Shuster said in a statement. “We have worked together to ensure that the NRC and other agencies will use their space more efficiently and save the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

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