Monday, June 21, 2010

Goodlatte calls for halt to Poff building renovation

Congressman Bob Goodlatte

WASHINGTON, DC – Today Congressman Bob Goodlatte called the $50.9 million renovation of the Richard H. Poff Federal Building in Roanoke a waste of taxpayer dollars and strongly requested that the project be halted before further taxpayer funds are wasted. Funds for the Poff Federal Building renovation were designated from appropriations made in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, “the stimulus bill,” which was enacted in February 2009.

Congressman Goodlatte remains concerned that the project is misdirected. He is particularly concerned about the significant impact of the renovation on the tenants of the Poff Federal Building. While it was originally thought that staff would be moved to different floors during the renovation process, it has now been determined that this is not possible. It has come to our attention that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Roanoke Regional Office will be moved to four different locations. Not only will this be difficult for the employees of the VA Roanoke Regional Office but it will cause an increase in already lengthy delays in processing veterans’ claims and place an unnecessary burden on our area veterans when they are seeking assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Just last week the VA Roanoke Regional Office announced that they are looking for additional office space and do not expect to return to the Poff Building once the renovations, which are expected to take three years, are complete. Despite the fact that $51 million is being spent to renovate the Poff Federal Building, these renovations will not meet the VA Roanoke Regional Office’s needs for a more efficient operation and so the VA feels it is in their best interest to look for new office space.

Goodlatte commented, “It is extremely alarming that the Department of Veterans Affairs Roanoke Regional Office, the largest tenant in the Poff Federal Building, will not be returning to the building once the renovations are complete. How can the General Services Administration spend nearly $51 million of the taxpayers’ money to renovate the Poff Federal Building and yet not address the needs of the building’s tenants?”

In addition to the recent decision by the VA Roanoke Regional Office to permanently move out of the Poff Federal Building, Congressman Goodlatte also learned this past week that the other major tenant of the building, the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, had earlier requested that GSA examine alternatives to the renovation of the Poff Building for security and efficiency reasons and was refused. Congressman Goodlatte remains concerned about the security of the Poff Federal Building and the security of those who work and visit there. GSA officials have explained that a security assessment is required by both the GSA and the Department of Homeland Security and that the project team has been working with the building’s security committee. However, Goodlatte is concerned that there is not appropriate coordination between the security assessment and the building redesign which will result in the completion of security updates as a separate project requiring substantial additional funds.

“I remain unconvinced that the suggested improvements are the best use of taxpayer dollars to keep the building operating for the next 20 to 30 years,” Goodlatte said. “A project of such massive scope should not be faced with arbitrary deadlines like those imposed through the stimulus legislation. Prudent expenditure of such a massive amount of federal funds would suggest that the project should have been handled through the more direct procurement process, similar to what was used to build the recently completed Social Security Administration building in Roanoke. Such a process would have permitted the GSA to more fully disclose the supposed benefits and projected costs of ‘green’ updates so they could be compared to the costs of a new building.”

Since the announcement that the Poff Building would undergo $50.9 million worth of renovations, Congressman Goodlatte has received numerous inquiries from constituents concerned about the excessive price tag for the project, the cost effectiveness of this project relative to alternative construction, and the inability of local businesses to bid on the initial stages of the project.

In response to those inquiries, Goodlatte sent a letter to the General Services Administration (GSA) Acting Regional Administrator on April 30, 2009 to express his concerns about the scope of the project and to request that all feasible options be considered before the expenditure of funds. A subsequent conversation was held between Goodlatte’s District Director and the Public Buildings Service Administrator on May 5. The GSA responded with a letter dated June 9 that did not satisfactorily answer Goodlatte’s questions or address his concerns. Ten days later on June 19 the GSA posted a notice to solicit proposals to provide design services for the Poff building project. Concerned that the project was moving ahead without being properly vetted, Goodlatte sent another letter to the GSA on June 24 reiterating his concerns. The GSA responded to the letter by phone on July 6 followed by a meeting on July 15 with Goodlatte’s District Director during which GSA officials promised to keep Goodlatte informed and to provide answers to address his concerns about the scope of the project and consideration of other options. After giving GSA ample time to provide the requested information, Goodlatte’s District Director followed up with the GSA by e-mail on September 30 and was told that the GSA had already awarded the design contract for the Poff building renovation.

In response to the fact that the GSA was moving ahead with the project and hiring contractors for the renovation before even demonstrating that the $50.9 million renovation was necessary, Goodlatte requested another meeting with the GSA which occurred via conference call on October 22. The GSA again promised to provide Goodlatte with the information he had requested. However, on that same day and before a full accounting could be made of how the taxpayers’ money would be spent and whether the proposed renovation is the most cost-effective option, the GSA publicly announced that it had already awarded a $2.9 million design contract to TranSystems Corporation of Kansas City, Missouri to begin work on the $50.9 million renovation project to make it a more energy efficient, “green” building.

Congressman Goodlatte was again promised on October 22 that the GSA would furnish him with information that more fully explains the purpose of the Poff Federal Building project, how it compares to constructing a new building, the energy savings that are expected, and how future bids for work on the project will be handled. However, to date Congressman Goodlatte has never received a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the project.

The recent revelation that the building will not meet the needs of the largest government agency tenant (VA) and that the renovation process will be highly disruptive to the processing of Veterans benefit claims, which are already backlogged by many months, along with building security concerns prompted Goodlatte to write to the Director of the General Services Administration. In the letter, Goodlatte points out that with renovation work due to begin shortly it will soon be too late to change course on this project and meet the professional and security needs of the government agencies housed in the building without the waste of additional tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. A copy of that letter is attached.

“We need to make sure that the huge expenditure envisioned for the Poff Federal Building is done in a deliberate manner with full disclosure and transparency of how the taxpayers’ money will be spent and what jobs are created by the project for the Roanoke Valley,” Goodlatte said. “The GSA should immediately halt the planned renovations of the Poff Federal Building and thoroughly investigate whether the nearly $51 million dollar proposed renovation of this building is a justifiable use of taxpayer money or whether it would be more cost effective and the public would be better served by replacing the existing building with a newly-constructed energy-efficient building.”

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Finance, Politics

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