GSA lease at One World Trade Center sparks spat with lawmakers

Posted: Friday Jul 27, 2012

Three House Republicans are accusing the General Services Administration of skirting the law by signing a long-term office lease at One World Trade Center without their prior approval.

The lawmakers also requested a briefing from GSA officials by the end of this week on the legal basis for approval of the lease.

At issue is a 270,000 square foot, 20-year, $351 million lease at One World Trade Center. GSA signed the lease this month without first getting approval of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. U.S. statute requires that GSA get approval from Congress for all leases above $2.66 million in value; however, past presidents and the Government Accountability Office have disputed the statute's authority.

Reps. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, public buildings subcommittee chairman Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Jo Ann Emerson, appropriations financial services subcommittee chairwoman, sent a letter on July 25 to acting GSA administrator Dan Tangherlini, asking for a legal explanation for the agency's actions.

"We are writing to express our deep concern and disappointment with the General Services Administration's decision to enter into a long-term lease agreement with the World Trace Center without an approved prospectus as required by the authorizing statute and appropriations act," the letter said.

But GSA states in its leasing policies, posted on the agency's website, that having to seek approval from Congress "constitutes a legislative veto that violates the separation of powers between the legislative branch and the executive branch."

Instead, the agency seeks approval for leases "as a matter of comity" between GSA and the House and Senate committees that oversee it.

GSA spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara said the agency has the legal authority to proceed with leases without congressional approval, but it chose to send the lease to Congress in advance in the "spirit of cooperation and transparency."

"GSA's authority to sign leases is reaffirmed by a [Government Accountability Office] opinion, legal opinion in U.S. courts and Senate, Executive Branch and Presidential correspondence going back as far as 1972," she said.

She said numerous organizations have given the lease their full support, including the New York congressional delegation, the Port Authority of New York and the governors of New York and New Jersey.

She said the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee -- which also oversees GSA leases -- reviewed the lease and expressed no concerns.

"The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee had ample opportunity to review and act, and it did not," Alcantara said.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's review of GSA leases averaged 50 days in 2007. That figure jumped to 300 days during last year and this year, according to GSA.

Mica said at a July 26 hearing that GSA believes it can get around Congress and enter into leases on its own despite what the law said and that the agency has "spun out of control."

"We are either approving leases or we are not," Mica said.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure committee approved 13 leases July 26.

"I am very disturbed by GSA's recent decision to flagrantly disregard 40 years of legal precedent and enter into a lease binding the taxpayer to hundreds of millions of dollars of lease payments without authorization to do so," Denham said at a hearing July 26.

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