WASHINGTON— House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) today delivered opening remarks at a full committee hearing titled “Oversight of the U.S. General Services Administration.” In his opening statement, Chairman Comer emphasized that the General Services Administration (GSA) has fallen short in its responsibility as the federal government’s supply closet, landlord, real estate agent, motor pool, and IT support. He pointed out that GSA has opportunities for savings in federal discretionary spending when it comes to federal property, procurement, travel, and conferences. Chairman Comer concluded that GSA must carry out its responsibilities with the interest of the taxpayer front and center.
Below are Chairman Comer’s remarks as prepared for delivery.
Good morning, and welcome everyone to this hearing on the General Services Administration.
GSA is intended to serve as the federal government’s supply closet, landlord, real estate agent, motor pool, and IT support.
Unfortunately, GSA has fallen short in executing its mission.
Just look at the sudden announcement last week of the proposed FBI headquarters relocation.
It appears that at the eleventh hour, a political appointee was given the role of decision-maker; she then changed the criteria; reversed the recommendation of career experts; then promptly left for a new job.
The process—or lack thereof—raises many questions that need to be answered.
And earlier this Congress, Chairman Sessions and Ranking Member Mfume held a bipartisan hearing and began an investigation into long-standing misrepresentations with Login.gov.
Their work is ongoing, but the services Login.gov provides—or claims to provide—are very much relevant in our fight against identity theft—a key component in the massive amounts of fraud we saw in COVID relief programs.
So, if the Biden Administration is intent on pushing Login.gov onto federal agencies, we all need to have confidence in its ability to protect the interests of the American taxpayer.
GSA is facing a crisis of confidence.
And it does so at a point when the Biden Administration is attempting to harden its radical policies in a number of different ways:
- The electrification of the federal vehicle fleet.
- Spreading the narrative of “equity” across every facet of the federal government.
- The disjointed effort to make telework the norm in federal agencies.
On this last point, GSA is at ground zero regarding the amount of office space the federal government leases—and how much it actually uses.
In Washington, D.C.—where most federal agency headquarters are located—much of the 21 million square feet of office space they occupy sits empty.
According to the Government Accountability Office, 17 of 24 federal agency headquarters buildings in D.C. were operating at 25 percent or less capacity as of March. The six emptiest buildings averaged just nine percent capacity.
And the Biden Administration doesn’t want to know or understand whether its employees are coming into the workplace.
We asked the OPM director earlier this year in this same room how many DC area federal employees were going to the office.
She didn’t know.
We’ve since written to individual agencies to ask each of them directly.
Meanwhile, GAO’s building occupancy data speaks volumes. So too do the deserted daytime streets, reduced metro ridership, and diminished retail activity in downtown DC.
And there are unused and underused federal buildings strewn across the Nation.
Hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds are spent annually just to maintain government-owned properties that should be sold off.
A billion dollars or more could be saved annually by terminating unneeded federal office space leases.
Unused federal space was an issue prior to the pandemic—federal property management has long been on GAO’s High-Risk List—but it’s now become one that is simply too big—and too costly—to ignore.
The bottom line is this: The Biden Administration can’t have it both ways—at taxpayer expense.
You either bring employees back to work to improve productivity and service.
Or you fully right-size the office space and hand taxpayers their telework dividend.
And we don’t have time to wait around.
Half of GSA’s building leases are coming up for renewal in the next five years.
So, if employees aren’t going back to work, let’s act accordingly.
When I look at the activities GSA oversees—federal property, procurement, travel and conferences—I see a lot of opportunities for savings in federal discretionary spending.
GSA is directly involved in how tens of billions of funds are spent every year.
It is the gatekeeper to the massive federal marketplace across a wide variety of industries.
It oversees thousands of federal properties and hundreds of millions of rented square footage.
This Committee—at least my Republican colleagues—want to know that GSA is carrying out its responsibilities with the genuine interests of the taxpayer front and center.
And we want confidence that the current administrator is up to the task.
After we received reports she was rarely in Washington, we sought information.
What we found was that Administrator Carnahan did spend a great deal of her time away from D.C.—more than what official travel would require.
At a time when the White House chief of staff himself is stressing the importance of in-person work, we want to know if agency heads—including Ms. Carnahan—are leading by example.
So, we have a lot to talk about today.
I am pleased that the GSA Administrator is here today to explore these timely and critical issues, and look forward to her testimony.