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GSA officials defend budget plans for 2011

Apr. 28, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By TIM KAUFFMAN   |   Comments
GSA Administrator Martha Johnson announced that "we should set our sights on eliminating the impact of the federal government on our natural environment."
GSA Administrator Martha Johnson announced that "we should set our sights on eliminating the impact of the federal government on our natural environment." (CHRIS MADDALONI / STAFF)

The General Services Administration is seeking a 13.5 percent increase in discretionary spending next year, at a time when most agencies are seeing their budgets frozen or cut.

The bulk of the $80 million increase is for two acquisition-related initiatives, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson said Wednesday at a House budget hearing. GSA is requesting $21 million to modernize governmentwide information systems used for managing federal purchases of goods and services. Another $25 million would fund a new program intended to improve training for federal acquisition employees, address skills gaps in the acquisition workforce and enhance mentoring and sharing of best practices within the acquisition community.

Rep. Jose Serrano, who oversaw the budget hearing as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government, said the requested increase will need to be evaluated closely.

"Given the president's freeze on non-security discretionary spending, we will need to take a close look at all agency requests for increases," Serrano, D-N.Y., said.

Serrano and other lawmakers questioned GSA's decision not to request money for any new federal courthouses. The U.S. Courts is GSA's largest building customer and has a long list of priority construction projects.

Johnson said GSA had to prioritize what projects it could fund this year. More than half of the $676 million GSA has dedicated toward new construction in fiscal 2011 is for the massive Homeland Security Department headquarters consolidation project at the former St. Elizabeths hospital site.

"We are trying to make careful calculus of all of the needs of the portfolio," Johnson said.

Still, Serrano said he would rather have GSA request money for new construction projects and see the requested amounts reduced or eliminated rather than not request anything. Many lawmakers are frustrated at the slow pace of new courthouse construction but can do little if GSA doesn't request money to build more.

"You put us in a difficult situation when you don't ask," he said.

Lawmakers also quizzed Johnson on why it is taking so long for GSA to spend its Recovery Act money. GSA has spent less than $300 million of the $5.5 billion in stimulus funds the agency was given when Congress passed the law more than a year ago.

Johnson said the bulk of GSA's stimulus funds won't be spent until projects are completed and contractors ask to be reimbursed. GSA has obligated, or promised to spend, more than $4.3 billion in Recovery Act funds to date. That's allowed contractors to get bank loans that actually cover the cost of the construction projects. GSA will reimburse the contractors for the projects once they're complete.

"Our funding is a lagging indicator of the activity," she said.

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