GSA failed to tell Congress when it reworked building costs

The General Services Administration is able to “rebaseline” construction and renovation projects when the conditions of the worksite or new building plans necessitate a longer timetable or higher cost, but the agency doesn’t always report those changes to Congress, according to a Dec. 12 Government Accountability Office report.

“After GSA rebaselines a project, costs may differ from the project estimates approved by Congress,” the report said.

“Congress lacks information about GSA’s performance: such as whether final costs are consistently above, below or meeting estimated costs. Reporting such information could benefit Congress’ ability to carry out its oversight role and improve transparency about the full costs of major federal construction projects.”

According to the report, GSA rebaselined 25 of the 36 projects GAO reviewed from fiscal years 2014 to 2018, to account for things like safety concerns or new tenant needs.

The agency also failed to fully pursue and record lessons learned from its various construction and renovation projects.

“GSA assesses whether projects meet requirements and tenants’ needs but does not fully capture or share lessons learned. For example, GSA uses ‘commissioning’ — testing installed building systems — to validate that the buildings’ systems function as designed. However, because GSA’s 2005 commissioning guide references outdated guidance, the effectiveness of its activities may be limited in assuring buildings are operating optimally,” the report said.

“GSA also uses post-occupancy evaluations to assess projects’ performance and tenants’ satisfaction. However, in the last 5 years, GSA has not regularly conducted POEs, due in part to resource constraints, and lacks a policy for selecting projects for POEs and communicating findings from completed POEs.”

GAO made three recommendations to GSA for improving their reporting: report the full extent of rebaselining to both Congress and the public, update its Commissioning Guide to be consistent with current standards and communicate how POEs should be conducted and their results communicated.

Though GSA agreed with the last two recommendations, it only partially agreed with the first, stating that it would be inaccurate to include information on additional funds provided to GSA from tenant agencies that lead to rebaselining, as these funds are from different appropriations.

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