Federal buildings are going long stretches of time, as long as a year in some cases, without routine maintenance or repairs due to poor performance by contractors who received $1 billion last fiscal year to maintain them, according to a government watchdog.

In a sample of the more than 340 operations and maintenance contracts awarded by the Public Buildings Service, the General Services Administration’s inspector general found nearly 70% of open work orders have not been filled, and of those that were, 43% took longer than they should have.

This risks federal buildings becoming “more vulnerable to excessive wear and tear,” leading to “higher repair and replacement costs” and potentially unsafe working conditions, according to the audit, which investigated GSA-owned buildings in Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Texas.

At the Jacob Javits building in New York, for example, 44% of the schedule preventative maintenance had not been done on time. That building primarily houses the Department of Homeland Security, Social Security Administration, FBI and Court of International Trade.

The federal government’s real estate situation has been thrust in the spotlight post pandemic. Higher rates of employees teleworking have made some office space obsolete, while other buildings have seen the shift as an opportunity to remodel or rethink space to be more flexible to accommodate the hybrid nature of work.

In a recent hearing before lawmakers, Jason Miller, a top official from the Office of Management and Budget, said agencies are about 80% compliant with orders to have their workforces onsite half of the time. And about 50% of all workers is not eligible to telework in the first place, he said. However, “extra” space that is either underutilized or outdated has become a complicated topic, as reducing, repurposing and repopulating federal offices all cost money and resources, which the audit shows are thin even just for existing work.

Officials interviewed in the report said at five of six sampled sites, there was not enough contract staff to meet the level of work, especially for larger buildings. There appears to be a discrepancy between personnel needs because staff at the actual place where maintenance will be done don’t get to weigh in on whether a contractor’s proposed staff levels is sufficient before an award is made.

Frequent turnover and lack of skills also contribute to hired staff being ill-equipped to meet the work, the report found.

In other instances of lapsed repairs or foregone maintenance, contractors and federal officials overseeing the work have different understandings of what a contract requires, and the Public Building Service, an office within GSA, has not enforced its own contract terms.

“One contractor did not inspect any completed work orders even though its contract required quality control inspections to be submitted monthly,” according to the audit.

Inspection checks were sometimes marked as a “pass” even without the work having been done, and sometimes they didn’t occur at all, without any repercussions.

In another example cited in the report, the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt building in Oregon had a backup water tank for fire sprinklers that had not been cleaned, as required, “in a long time.” Yet the contractor marked the inspection as “complete,” even though a subsequent visit revealed murky, green water so opaque a subcontractor couldn’t see through it when it sent a submersible down to look for cracks.

In its response to the audit, PBS said it would agree to enforce technical evaluations of bids pre-award and would issue clarifying guidance to ensure the expectations of a contract are adhered to.

NOTE: Is your office space well maintained? Do you have safety or hazard concerns at your federal building? Let us know so we can look into it by sending us a tip to tips@federaltimes.com

Anonymous messages welcome.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In Other News
Load More