Congresswoman says Montgomery, Prince George's get short shrift on federal office leases
Edwards: General Services Administration favors D.C., Virginia
U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards said the General Services Administration has to explain its leasing practices that keep Prince George's and Montgomery counties from getting their share of leases for federal office space.
Edwards (D-Dist. 4) of Fort Washington revived her interest in the issue after developers filed protests over a GSA search for more than 1 million square feet of office space for the Department of Homeland Security, she said. The companies protested that the lease requirements seemed to favor a site in Washington, D.C.
One of the formal complaints was filed by a Prince George's County developer, but other developers in Maryland have questioned the process, Edwards said.
The congresswoman said a study by the University of Maryland, College Park showed that the state, particularly Prince George's County, did not receive a proportionate share of GSA contracts as compared to other jurisdictions in the region.
GSA spokesman Michael McGill said the agency has taken numerous steps from bus tours of Prince George's County to meetings at GSA's office to assist Prince George's.
While Prince George's County makes up nearly one-third of the region's land space, 10.1 percent of GSA's leases are within the county, and a disproportionately high percentage of the GSA's leases are for warehouse space, which does not provide as many jobs, according to the 2007 study. The study also says that the warehouse space is rented for about half the price of office space.
"I am deeply concerned about the practice of GSA changing the criteria to favor some jurisdictions over others, resulting in an uneven playing field," Edwards said.
In two recent GSA requests for contracts, the administration altered the ceiling height requirement from 9 feet to 8 feet after proposals were put in for Prince George's County sites, Edwards said.
GSA officials have not been able to explain why the ceiling height requirement was changed, she said.
Prince George's County has more Metro stops than any other jurisdiction in the region, so if public transit is a requirement for the leases, the county should do better than it is at landing the projects, Edwards said.
"Prince George's County and Maryland aren't asking for any kind of special consideration, just for consideration," Edwards said.
But McGill said that when considering office space owned by the federal government in each jurisdiction and not just leased space, Prince George's and Montgomery counties have fared better than other jurisdictions.
A 2003 study of federal government space showed that Prince George's ranked third with 31 million square feet, compared with the District's 95 million square feet and Montgomery County's 34 million, McGill said. Arlington County had 22 million square feet and Fairfax had 17 million.
GSA and the federal government have made significant investments in the past 10 years in Prince George's County, including a facility of more than 1 million square feet in Suitland for the U.S. Census Bureau, according to McGill.
Of the federal government's total office space, 30 percent was in Washington, D.C., followed by 17 percent in Prince George's County, 11 percent in Montgomery County and 9 percent in Northern Virginia, he said.
"Prince George's County has come relatively late to the market in developing substantial office space, and we're renting a higher proportion of available office space in Prince George's County than any other place," McGill said.
"We respect Prince George's County's desire to have us lease more office space, and we're doing our best to make our tenants more aware of the opportunities in Prince George's County."
But Edwards said she also was concerned that the GSA's leasing practices could hurt Montgomery and Prince George's counties when the leases of federal offices already located there come up for renewal.
"I want to see a transparent process," she said.
Of the 55 million square feet of office space rented by the GSA in the region, about 10 percent of the leases expire each year and go on the market for renewal and replacement, McGill said. Of that total, about 80 percent to 90 percent stay in the same location; of the 10 percent that leave for new space, the vast majority stay in the same jurisdiction, McGill said.