COLUMN: Bond should remove hold on General Services Administration appointee

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

Given the growing concerns over our government’s fast and loose spending lately, one would think any attempt to shave taxpayer costs would be welcomed by members of Congress. 

As it turns out, like most politicians, Sen. Kit Bond feels quite the opposite when his own state is the beneficiary. Bond and several other Missouri congressional representatives currently have a beef with the government’s General Services Administration over some Kansas City pork that was thought to be a done deal until held up by the Senate last June.

To show his displeasure and to lean on the agency, Bond has decided to blatantly abuse his Senatorial powers and place a hold on the confirmation of Martha Johnson, President Obama’s nominee to lead the GSA, the government agency responsible for renting and purchasing government property.

Nominated on April 3, 2009, Johnson has had a rigorous nine months. Although she has been heralded for her wealth of experience and is considered the perfect person for the job, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid originally placed a hold on her confirmation until he addressed a few personal issues of his own. Once removed, in July, Bond placed his own “informational hold” on Johnson in response to the Senate complications with his GSA construction proposal. These delays come at an inconvenient time for the agency.

Since May 2008, the GSA has been a revolving door. In just under two years, the agency has seen four acting administrators and recently lost its chief of staff and deputy administrator. Danielle Germain, who was personally selected by Johnson to be chief of staff and began in June, cited the delay of Johnson’s confirmation as her reason for resignation, reported the Washington Post. Although not highly publicized, the GSA is an important and active agency. Having its three highest positions vacant is not exactly ideal. 

According to Government Executive Magazine, former and current agency officials admit that the GSA can continue to operate its day-to-day business, but without someone at the helm, there is no vision for the future, morale is starting to sink and vendors and industry associations are even starting to get restless.

"Imagine a business being without a CEO," GSA spokeswoman Sahar Wali told the magazine. "Now imagine that for two years."

Although the White House still stands behind Johnson, with so many larger issues on the table, wasting valuable political maneuvering on lifting a hold probably won’t happen. This leaves Johnson and the GSA in the wind. There is the possibility of Reid filing cloture — where the Senate could debate and vote on the fate of Johnson and several other victims of frivolous holds — but this too remains indefinite.  

“I don't see how it will be possible to break the hold unless Sen. Bond realizes this is no way to run government, and he realizes the hold is undermining government performance,” said Paul Light, a professor at New York University and expert on government, told Federal News Radio. “He should realize this."

So what has Bond acting so imprudently?

Just outside Kansas City sits the 310-acre Bannister Federal Complex. Citing the building as extremely expensive, partially occupied and not conducive to good work, Bond proposed that the GSA move its roughly 1,200 employees from Bannister to downtown. The GSA would have three options: lease and modify an already existing building, hire a private company to build a new building to specification and then lease the space, or delay the move and ask Congress for funding to construct its own federal building.

Bond pushed for the second option. According to the Kansas City Business Journal, this idea was originally Brad Scott’s, head of GSA’s Heartland Division during the Bush years and Bond’s former deputy chief of staff for 12 years. As part of Kansas City's downtown revitalization efforts, such a move would boost the economy and also help with a downtown parking problem while avoiding “Congress’ disdain for financing federal parking structures.” 

“The Kansas City Council supported Scott’s plan, passing a resolution allowing the developer to direct new taxes generated by the project to address parking needs for downtown federal workers,” reported the Business Journal.

After getting the nod by the GSA and the Office of Management and Budget, the proposal stalled when it reached the Senate for final approval. With a little prodding from the Senate, the GSA held a 60-day review of the project and found that “owning a federal building is the lowest long-term cost solution.” 

The GSA still plans to leave the Bannister Complex, but it will construct its own building, leaving Bond understandably perturbed. But using Johnson as leverage and further stifling the GSA does zero good and lots of harm. Bond might not be running for re-election this year, but he should at least go out with class.


Andrew Del-Colle is an adjunct instructor and a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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