A newly enacted short-term spending bill keeps federal programs operating until April 8, but also mandates $6 billion in spending cuts. Those cuts were especially deep at the General Services Administration’s federal buildings construction program. The bill, which President Obama signed on March 18, slashes all of GSA’s fiscal 2011 spending for new construction and trims funding for major building repairs and energy-efficiency upgrades by about 30%.

Robert A. Peck, commissioner of GSA’s Public Buildings Service, says the stopgap would affect all line-item projects in the agency’s 2011 budget request. That includes $652 million for new construction and $321 million for big renovations.

Peck says GSA could defer some of the proposed 2011 projects until 2012. Moreover, without fiscal 2011 capital-program funds, “We’re going to have to take another look at the [2012] program we just sent up [to Congress] last month,” he says. The 2012 request has $840 million for new construction and $869 million for renovations. Peck says GSA won’t move all of its 2011 projects to 2012, because it would like to carry out some proposed, high-priority 2012 projects in that year.

Threatened 2011 projects include new phases of a multiyear Dept. of Homeland Security complex in Washington, D.C. An initial project at the site, a U.S. Coast Guard headquarters, is funded and under way. But cuts could hit new work tied to the Coast Guard construction. Peck says, “If we have to shut down, it’s going to cost us more money to start back up.”

Andrew Goldberg, the American Institute of Architects’ senior director for federal relations, calls the bill’s GSA cuts short-sighted. For energy-efficiency renovations, he says, “If they have to delay these projects, it’s going to end up costing the taxpayers more money” in construction costs and unrealized energy savings.

Bryan Howard, the U.S. Green Building Council’s legislative director, says the cuts are “poor choices” from public policy and jobs perspectives. “We’re currently still in a very fragile place in the construction markets” and the GSA projects would produce about 10,000 direct jobs, he says.

Goldberg says it’s not out of the question that Congress could restore GSA funds in a broad 2011 budget deal. But undoing enacted cuts may be a tough sell. Howard says GSA could find funds to keep priority 2011 projects going by canceling leases, for example, but then it would incur cancellation penalties.

2011 Projects Up in the Air
(in $ millions)
DHS Complex, Washington, D.C.
DHS consolidation, development
West Campus infrastructure
Historic preservation mitigation
Highway interchange
FDA consolidation, next phase Silver Spring, Md.
Land port of entry, Calexico, Calif.
Federal center remediation, Lakewood, Colo.
FBI garage, Detroit
Land port of entry, Calais, Maine
*Line-Item amounts are rounded.
Source: office of management and budget.