GSA chief slammed for FBI building pivot

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Washington, February 15, 2018 | comments
Mark Rockwell

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle lit into new General Services Administration head Emily Murphy for abandoning a plan to consolidate FBI headquarters in a new campus.

For the bulk of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Feb. 15 Government Operations Subcommittee hearing, Murphy faced a withering fusillade of bipartisan questioning about her agency's controversial announcement a few days earlier to keep the FBI headquarters building in downtown Washington. The agency had previously abandoned plans to move the facility to nearby Maryland or Virginia.

Because of the reversal, the GSA "comes off as unreliable" to potential contractors and it "damages the procurement process," subcommittee ranking member Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) told Murphy.

In his opening statement, Connolly questioned whether the move was driven by Trump administration priorities to decentralize the federal workforce outside the Washington, D.C. area, or whether the president was personally concerned that the redevelopment of the FBI's current downtown headquarters would compete with the nearby Trump International Hotel and impact "the president's personal bottom line."

"What does the FBI know about real estate?" fumed subcommittee Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), when Mathews testified the FBI's changing personnel numbers in its operational requirements led to the shift.

Murphy did hear some praise for lawmakers, primarily for the agency's approach to ramping up shared services across government. She told lawmakers that GSA's shared services efforts "are bearing fruit," with a draft request for proposals for a shared payroll system issued in January.

Additional RFPs -- for time and attendance, financial management and contract writing systems -- will follow, she said.

Murphy stressed that federal agencies should have choices about what systems they use. "There should be some redundancy," she said. Agencies should have options, "but three or four, not 100."

Murphy also tried to manage legislators' expectations. "We've got a lot of work to do," she said. "This is not a one-year quick win. It's a long-term effort."

Murphy and her deputy Alan Thomas were also quizzed about a pending response to a letter sent last August by Connolly and other committee members with questions about GSA's reorganization of its Technology Transformation Service under the Federal Acquisition Service.

Connolly and Meadows said GSA had not responded to the letter. Thomas said the agency was still coordinating a response.

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