Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Goodlatte Shows Extreme Waste in Poff Renovation

Goodlatte targets Poff renovation

The congressman says the $51 million federal project is a waste of taxpayers' money.

A proposed $51 million renovation of the Poff Federal Building is a "waste of taxpayer dollars," U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte said Monday in urging the government to halt a project born from federal stimulus funds.

Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, questioned why the cost of making the downtown building more energy efficient is more than four times what it cost to build it in the 1970s.

"A comprehensive cost-benefit analysis is required before a project like this should proceed," Goodlatte wrote in a recent letter to Martha Johnson, administrator of the General Services Administration, the federal agency that is essentially the landlord for government buildings.

Although it's unusual for an elected official to oppose the influx of more than $50 million to his district, Goodlatte cited a number of reasons that go beyond his opposition to the stimulus package passed by Congress last year.

Like all House Republicans, Goodlatte voted against President Obama's $787 billion plan to stimulate a tanking economy.

But Goodlatte did not immediately oppose the $51 million from the stimulus package designated for renovations to the Poff Building, a 14-story glass-and-brick edifice that houses the region's federal courts and the offices of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The congressman said Monday that his concerns about the project grew over the past year as he tried in vain to get answers from the GSA about its need and cost. Goodlatte asked that the project be stopped only after recently learning that the VA -- which occupies about half of the building -- plans to relocate.

"It is extremely alarming that ... the largest tenant in the Poff Federal Building will not be returning to the building once the renovations are complete," Goodlatte said in a statement. "How can the General Services Administration spend nearly $51 million of the taxpayers' money to renovate the Poff Federal Building and yet not address the needs of the building's tenants?"

A GSA spokeswoman said modernization of the building, which has not received a major renovation since it opened in 1975, is more cost-efficient than building a new one.

"The Poff Federal Building in Roanoke will be a hallmark in taxpayer savings through higher performing, greener improvements," Gina Blyther Gilliam wrote in an e-mail.

Details of what the work will entail were not available Monday. In the past, government officials have said only that the improvements will make the building more energy efficient. Goodlatte said that includes replacing the windows and installing a new heating and cooling system.

If there was a need for such improvements before the stimulus money became available, Goodlatte said, he was never informed. The way he sees it, the GSA's position is: "We've got the money, let's spend it."

Kevin Thompson, a spokesman for the VA's regional office, confirmed that the agency is looking for a new location. He referred most questions -- including ones raised by Goodlatte about how the renovation project will not meet the agency's needs for a more efficient operation -- to the GSA.

Last year, a report by the VA's inspector general found widespread problems at the Roanoke regional office, which handles compensation and pension claims for area veterans. The shortcomings included lost files and improperly processed claims.

The report also warned that overloaded file cabinets on the upper floors exceeded weight limits and could compromise the building's structural integrity -- a finding that GSA disputed but quickly addressed by redistributing the files.

According to Goodlatte, the VA's regional office will be moved to four different locations, causing "an increase in already lengthy delays in processing veterans' claims."

Thompson said there may be a "slight delay" in paperwork while the move is in progress, but there should be no long-term impact.

It was unclear where the VA office will move. One possibility cited by Goodlatte is the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salem. That option could involve new construction on the grounds or use of existing buildings, the congressman wrote in his letter to GSA.

Another concern cited by Goodlatte is that area firms have not been able to bid on work for the Poff Building. A $2.9 million contract for the renovation's design recently went to a firm in Kansas City, Mo.

"We need to make sure that the huge expenditure envisioned for the Poff Federal Building is done in a deliberate manner with full disclosure and transparency of how the taxpayers' money will be spent and what jobs are created by the project for the Roanoke Valley," Goodlatte said.


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