in Houston, Texas
(Correction) Federal government rents space but doesn’t use it
Thursday, May 17, 2012, 04:52PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
333 Clay

Editor’s Note (May 23):

When we publish incorrect information, Texas Watchdog ‘fesses up to it and quickly corrects the record.

We are proud that that is a rarity, but unfortunately that’s what we need to do today.

Texas Watchdog blogged below on a piece in the Washington Examiner about government-leased office space and vacancy rates at Texas properties. The story was based on data from the General Services Administration.

Today, the Examiner has updated its site to say that the original interpretation of the data was incorrect:

The agency publishes a monthly spreadsheet on its website of property it leases across the country, including a column of data entitled “Percent Occupied.” Based on the latter data, The Washington Examiner published a story online last week that said the GSA had leased numerous properties that were largely unoccupied.

Multiple telephone requests to the agency for comment on that story were unreturned prior to its publication.

But the occupancy statistic in those spreadsheets is actually meant to show how much space in each building GSA leases, (agency spokesman Adam) Elkington said.

The agency’s leased office space around the country is 2.3 percent vacant, Elkington tells the Examiner.

It is not clear what the actual occupancy rates are for the individual Texas properties and the cost of space not used. If we get an update on that question, we will write about it here.

-- Trent Seibert, editor


Original Item:

Taxpayers are footing more than $83 million a year in rent for federal agencies in Texas that use less than half of the space they pay for.

This expenditure of many millions of dollars for empty space here and across the country is brought to you by the General Services Administration. You might remember them best as the hosts of the $800,000 mind-reading, Barolo-braised, commemorative medal-awarding conference in Las Vegas that prompted director Martha Johnson to resign.

Washington Examiner data editor Jennifer Peebles, former investigative reporter and editor with Texas Watchdog, today captures in loving detail this latest expression of the GSA’s strategic goal “to use data, evidence, and analysis to support decisions that wring out inefficiencies in operations.”

The GSA’s Public Buildings Service has under management at least 2,000 properties nationwide that are less than 10 percent occupied at a total annual rent of $600 million, 167 of those with a combined rent of $27.7 million in Texas, the Examiner study showed.

Taxpayers are paying $13 million a year for 189 rentals across the country that are less than 1 percent occupied, including an unoccupied 24,000 square-foot space in Fort Lauderdale at $1 million a year. Texas has 11 of these properties toting up more than $430,000 a year in rent.

In all, taxpayers pay $250 million a year in rent for 545 properties in Texas, 292 or almost 54 percent of them less than half occupied at the more than $83 million cost, the Examiner study showed. Sixteen of those half-full properties have rents of $1 million or more a year.

Of that total, 247 properties at a total annual rent of $61.7 million are less than a quarter occupied, 167 of them under 10 percent (viewable in map below) and 103 of them less than 5 percent occupied. (View a list or a searchable database of all properties in Texas.)

Crown jewel among the under-occupied is the swankriffic Fountain Place in Dallas where the Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 staff has its offices. According to the GSA, taxpayers pay $4.8 million a year in rent for the federal government to use 24 percent of the space.

At shimmering 919 Milam St. in Houston the U.S. Attorney’s office reports a 21 percent occupancy at a $3.3 million annual rent. This might be because at least some of the U.S. Attorney’s office staff has already moved to Wells Fargo Plaza.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Social Security Administration have offices in the prime downtown office building at 1301 Young St. in Dallas. The rent, $2.3 million a year, also covers 81.4 percent of unused office space.

And in the hope of setting an example, the General Services Administration itself has a space less than 1 percent occupied at 333 Clay St. in Houston, a rental steal at $322,100 a year.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of the sign for building at 333 Clay St. in Houston by Trent Seibert.

Comments
Gary McCurry
Saturday, 05/19/2012 - 05:40PM

haven't heard much on the GSA trip to Vegas etc, what's happening with that, time went by and everyone has forgotten or what

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