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Winstead Addresses BRAC Education Day

Remarks by
David Winstead
PBS Commissioner
U.S. General Services Administration
First Annual BRAC Education Day
Washington, DC
July 31, 2008

Thank you, Art Chantker. It is a pleasure to join you today for our “green” luncheon and to share a few comments about the “greening of BRAC,” a phrase not often heard but an important one given today’s focus on environmental issues and sustainability.

From the broadest possible perspective, I can assure you that the “greening of the federal government” is a national priority. For example, one standard in this effort—the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 enacted last December—maps the future with aggressive goals. By 2010, for instance, federal agencies shall reduce their use of fossil-fuels by 55 percent compared to a 2003 base year. In addition, further reductions are required in five-year increments so that facilities use no fossil fuels by the year 2030. And that’s only one part of a much larger green agenda.

But before I delve any further into our conversation, I want to offer a brief advertisement. GSA is not a prominent feature on today’s agenda, and it is not the first agency that comes to mind when discussions turn to BRAC. So let me explain why I am here interrupting your lunch.

As was noted in the introduction, the U.S. General Services Administration, and in particular, its Public Buildings Service is the landlord for the federal civilian government and one of the largest public real estate organizations in the world. Our portfolio comprises more than 8,600 assets—some 352 million rentable square feet in 2,200 communities across the country. This is the workplace for 1.1 million people employed by federal agencies. And to sustain this program, we currently have more than $12 billion of projects underway.

In managing all these properties, we have developed significant expertise in the area of disposal as part of our overall asset management strategy. Perhaps, you have heard of the lighthouses we have for sale in conjunction with the National Park Service and the U.S. Coast Guard. Well, those are only a small fraction of our disposal operation that, since 2004, has resulted more than $7 billion in combined cost reductions, savings, and income through the disposal of land and over 200 federally-owned buildings.

GSA has been involved in the BRAC process since the first round in 1988. Beginning in 1989, the agency delegated its disposal authority to the Secretary of Defense for BRAC disposals, which means that the Services have executed the majority of their respective disposal transactions. Nonetheless, GSA continues to assist DoD with its real property portfolio management, including monitoring the execution of BRAC disposals across all five BRAC rounds (including the most recent in 2005).

In addition, we assist the Services in the disposal of selected installations, offering community outreach support, disposal strategies, marketing and transactional expertise, and a host of other realty services. Our experience has been especially helpful to DoD when addressing complex deals or disposal efforts that lose their momentum. In addition, the efficiency and value of our approach are attractive. We only charge actual costs incurred, providing the bulk of any sale proceeds to the landholding agency. Moreover, we can back those costs out at the close of the deal, avoiding up-front customer expenses. Beyond financial issues, we continuously refine our relationship management skills and have expertise at sorting out competing claims on properties as well as related planning and zoning issues. The result is several notable success stories.

Among our more high profile disposals, in 2005, we handled the online auction for the 3,700-acre decommissioned El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in southern California. It yielded a winning bid of $650 million, the highest online bid for any government property.

A 32-acre former missile defense base in Woolwich Township, New Jersey, at this point owned by GSA, is expected to be sold to a developer who will preserve 17 acres as open space and use the remaining land for commercial space.

We are also able and willing to handle the tough cases. For 12 years, the disposal of the Stratford Army Engine Plant in Connecticut, a BRAC 95 closure, was going nowhere when the Army asked GSA to help move the property from federal to private ownership. Within 9 months of our involvement, we corralled the necessary political partnership and successfully auctioned the property, bringing not only cash proceeds back to the Army but also an agreement that transferred environmental remediation costs and performance to the new owner.

These last two cases touch on our luncheon theme—the “greening of BRAC.” One major green outcome of BRAC is the dedication of significant acreage on former bases to open space for public benefit purposes, be it parks and recreation, or perhaps wildlife conservation.

A second—and maybe the most obvious “green” dimension of BRAC—is the cleanup of contaminated sites. Let me interject right away that not all BRAC bases are contaminated. But when this is the case, DoD, the Services, new owners and the community work with the relevant agencies and call in the necessary resources and expertise to make sure sites pose no hazard as they are reused and given new life. In terms of funding and the actual cleanup itself, these aspects of the process are handled in variety of ways. I also note that remediation can be done before or after transfer. What’s important is that it is carefully addressed, and it is very much about the “greening of BRAC.”

Yet a third take on “green” involves the timely transfer of properties. This yields real contributions to communities, including job creation, investment and tax revenues that are economic “green” benefits. In this regard, GSA has demonstrated the ability to reposition even environmentally-challenged properties (such as the Stratford Army Engine Plant) into the private sector for successful redevelopment.

Interestingly, GSA will eventually have an opportunity to “green” BRAC in an even more comprehensive way. Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, is a 2005 Round V (five) BRAC closure installation. As Walter Reed’s operations are transferred to other sites, GSA will take ownership of 34 of the Center’s 113 acres. This land will be redeveloped as a campus for federal agencies. In keeping with its legacy as a leader in sustainable design that extends back to the first oil shock of the 1970s, and given this prestigious DC site, I am certain GSA will commission facilities that will stand as models of excellence in green design.

At this moment, 25 of our buildings are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, a publicly-recognized mark of distinction in sustainable design. Ten have achieved a “gold” LEED rating and eight “silver.” Moreover, 70 GSA projects are registered with LEED to be rated and certified.

Today, GSA requires all new construction and major renovations projects to be LEED certified and we aim for LEED Silver. This is also the case for our leases where we aspire to LEED Silver for new build-to-suit lease construction projects.

Currently, in the portfolio we have 118 energy star buildings. We achieved a savings of $46 million by recycling last year. And between 2003 and 2007, GSA properties achieved an 8.1 percent reduction in energy consumption.

Clearly, energy and resource conservation is a national priority for PBS. And you have only to look at a few recent projects to understand how we taking leadership in this arena. Consider the San Francisco Federal Building. This remarkable office, which won the 2008 White House “Closing the Circle Award,” achieved a positive triple-bottom-line with successes in environmental, financial and social terms. It is the first federal building in the United States to use natural ventilation for cooling. It was also designed to exceed the most stringent energy code—California’s title 24—by 20 percent. In addition, eighty percent of the offices benefit from being naturally lit. This is a notable achievement in facilities where electric lighting typically represents 35 percent of total energy used.

Other projects that establish GSA's reputation in environmental stewardship are:

  • The John J. Duncan Jr. Federal Building in Knoxville, Tennessee, which was the winner of 2008 BOMA International Earth Award for environmentally sound office building management practices.
  • The leased Social Security Administration Service Center in Birmingham, Alabama, which has an eco-friendly green roof predicted to help reduce storm water runoff, extend the roof's life expectancy, and reduce the heating and cooling costs of the building.
  • The Clarkson S. Fisher U.S. Courthouse Annex in Trenton, New Jersey, where solar panels should allow GSA to save over $17,000 annually in reduced energy costs, and will cut carbon dioxide emissions by 292 tons over the panels’ lifetime.

I have no doubt that what we build at Walter Reed in the years to come will exceed these achievements. This campus will be a very special contribution to “greening BRAC.” We hope it will be one others emulate and that DoD and the Services encourage as they transfer BRAC installations to new owners.

As we see it—and as we intend to demonstrate—the “greening of BRAC” is not just about dedicating portions of BRAC sites to open space. It is not just about cleaning up BRAC bases. It is not just about successful conversion of former defense installations for economic benefit. It is about developing these former installations—hundreds of thousands of acres—as models of sustainable design excellence. It’s an exciting challenge, one that holds great promise for success. As a matter of fact, we know it can be done. We will show how it can be done. And we are ready and willing to work with others to move in the same direction.

Thank you for your time and attention. I welcome your questions.

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