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Martha Johnson, GSA Administrator in waiting, still waiting

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Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., continues to hold up the vote on Martha Johnson’s nomination to lead the General Services Administration. Bond placed a hold on her confirmation this summer to squeeze the agency for information about why it wasn’t closing down the federally owned Bannister Complex outside Kansas City, Mo.  and relocating staff to leased space downtown, as previously planned.

GSA’s new Public Building Service commissioner, Robert Peck, responded to Bond, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., in a letter last week.

In the Oct. 9 letter, Peck explained that plans to close Bannister are still on the table, but GSA has changed its approach to obtaining new space. GSA is scrapping the proposal submitted to Congress last year to replace Bannister with a “lease-construction” project, where a private developer builds space to the government’s specifications and then leases it to the government. GSA has turned away from this plan because further research shows it will be cheaper in the long-term for GSA to build and own a new federal building downtown.

Peck wrote:

Neither leasing space, nor a lease-construction project is our preferred option. Fiscal analyses show that building and owning a federal building is the lowest long-term cost solution. Kansas City also has sufficient federal agencies in leased space to support incurring additional federal ownership of space. Accordingly, we are prepared to begin site selection and design for a new federal building in Kansas City’s central employment area as soon as we can secure the requisite congressional approvals and funding.

Peck also noted that before entering a lease-construction agreement, the agency first must hold a competition to see if suitable space is already available. Because Kansas City has many office building vacancies, a lease-construction project would likely turn into a lease, Peck said.

Despite these assurances,  it appears Bond is not satisfied. According to today’s Kansas City Star, he has not lifted the hold on Johnson’s nomination.  Bond’s spokeswoman Shana Marchio told the Star “we need answers on the how and when this project will move forward,” adding that “without those answers, we cannot know how to evaluate the message from GSA.”

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