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January 20 2016

Lack of Communication among Federal Agencies: Not Good for Security

Patrice J. Lee

It’s not surprising that federal agencies don't communicate with each other. It's also not surprising that the taxpayer ends up payingwhen lack of communication leads to costly mistakes. 

A new watchdog report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that the General Services Administration (GSA) built a $75 million building, reportedly without proper consultation with the Federal Protection Agency (FPS), which is an arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS. 

This is how the report characterized it:

GSA constructed a facility with more than 180,000 rentable square feet and a project cost of nearly $75 million. FPS regional officials said the facility was intended to house law enforcement tenants; however, it was built with an energy efficiency system that didnot allow for the types of walls that law enforcement agencies typically need to house armories,holding cells, sensitive compartmented information facility space, and other needs. As a result,FPS said that no law enforcement agencies were able to use the facility and that GSA invested resources for a facility that is not usable for its intended tenants.However, GSA regional officialstold us that the project was intended for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ district headquarters and said thatthey consulted with FPS on perimeter security issues througout the project. As a result of these collaboration issues, FPS regional officials have reached out to GSA regional leadership about hosting a symposium to ensure the needs of law enforcement agencies are considered during future projects.

We said that the result of this lack of communication was a $75 million building that was useless.

We heard from the GSA, which says we mischaracterized the situation. In an email from press officer Teressa Wykpisz-Lee, we were informed:

The building in reference here "General Services Administration (GSA) built a new 180,000 square foot building for the Federal Protection Agency (FPS), which is an arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but neglected to consult with FPS during the design phase. As a result the building was not suitable for FPS to use. Cost of facility: $75 million." is Seattle’s Federal Center South.

Federal Center South was built specifically for the Army Corps of Engineers, who primarily occupy the building. In Nov 2014, the COE notified GSA of the intent to return 22K square feet of space as part of their efforts to reduce their footprint and save costs.As with any provider of real estate, when a vacancy came open, we worked to find an appropriate tenant for that space. We considered an FPS component as a potential backfill for this space, but the location and space did not meet their mission requirements. The VHA (Veterans Health Administration)  has since backfilled this space. Current vacant space is less than 1%.

In short, the building was never intended to be law enforcement capable and the building is being fully utilized by compatible tenants.

Golly, it sounds like the GSA, FPS, and GAO really needed to communicate better over the report!

The Daily Caller reports:

GSA, already notorious for wasteful spending on conferences and employee videos, didn’t talk to the Federal Protective Service (FPS) during design phase of the more than 180,000 square foot building, the congressional watchdog agency said in a report made public Tuesday.

The failure to communicate is particularly striking since the FPS was for many years part of GSA, which is the federal government’s chief housekeeping agency for the more than 8,900 federal properties across the country.

The FPS was moved to the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 and is responsible for things like security cameras, security officers and alarms to protect buildings owned or leased by GSA.

The lack of communication between GSA and FPS could represent a security problem as well.

The GAO claims that the agencies are trying to do better with their costly communication problems--now maybe we should extract a promise to cut down on wasteful spending at conferences for employees.

Our mammoth federal agencies run on  rules and protocols that are often rigid and lack flexibility. This is a good case for why smaller, more efficient government is best. It’s easier to turn a schooner than an ocean liner when the course either vessel is on is headed to calamity.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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