GSA Can Improve Communication, Assessment of Major Construction Projects, GAO Finds

The General Services Administration spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually to build or modernize federal offices, courthouses, and other buildings.

The Government Accountability Office found GSA routinely meets its cost and schedule goals, but it does not report the projects’ final costs or how much project costs and schedules were revised. Also, GSA evaluates whether projects meet design standards and tenant needs, but it lacks guidance for identifying and communicating lessons learned from completed projects.

GAO recommended that GSA report completed projects’ final costs and establish written guidance on how to assess projects following construction.

In fiscal years 2014 through 2018, the General Services Administration (GSA) completed 36 major construction projects—projects with a minimum cost of $20 million to construct new buildings or modernize existing buildings—with a total cost of $3.2 billion. According to a GSA consultant, factors specific to federal construction projects may result in GSA’s projects costing roughly 15 to 25 percent more than comparable private sector projects. For example, GSA uses more durable but more expensive materials to achieve a longer building service life compared to private owners who may plan for a shorter service life.

GSA’s Annual Performance Reports to Congress do not indicate how much GSA “rebaselined” projects’ schedules and costs. Rebaslining reestablishes the point at which GSA measures on-schedule and on-budget performance. In accordance with agency policy, GSA rebaselined 25 of 36 projects GAO reviewed to account for issues such as design changes and tenant-funded requests. For example, GSA rebaselined one of its modernization projects for a $2.7 million increase to the construction contract initially awarded for $21.8 million. The increase resulted from a design change to add a stairwell for fire safety purposes to accomodate the tenant’s plan to increase the building’s occupants (see figure). After GSA rebaselines a project, costs may differ from the project estimates approved by Congress. Because GSA does not report the extent that it has rebaselined projects or projects’ final costs, 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.

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. GSA also uses post occupany evaluations (POE) 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. As a result, GSA may be missing opportunities to fully utilize POEs to gather tenants’ feedback and inform the design and construction of future projects.

GAO is recommending that GSA (1) report the extent projects were rebaselined and their final costs; (2) update GSA’s commissioning guidance; and (3) identify and communicate when and how to conduct POEs and share lessons learned. GSA concurred with two recommendations and partially concurred with the other, which GAO believes should be fully implemented as discussed in the report.

Read the GAO report

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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