As transit advocates the hypocrisy of the local General Services Administration (GSA) and local Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to move the Region 7 EPA offices from downtown Kansas City, Kansas to a building in Lenexa, Kansas is almost unbearable.
The EPA facility is moving from a transit rich location in a city center in the middle of the region to an extreme western suburb with a deplorable level of transit service.
Keep in mind that the decisions around this move were made locally and deliberately. This move is not the decision of some bureaucrat in Washington, D.C. who doesn’t know the difference between Kansas City, KS and Kansas City, MO. The GSA office is local. They knew that leaving the current EPA facility meant they would leave downtown Kansas City, Kansas since there isn’t another qualified building for the EPA needs in that vicinity. Deciding to stay in Kansas meant they would move to the suburbs. Although the GSA Solicitation For Offers has a “city center neighborhood” location option, this was a false choice since they eliminated that possibility by not allowing Missouri to compete. They had just failed after three years to negotiate a new lease with the only qualifying building in a city center in Kansas. Unless the bid submission for the current EPA building changed drastically from earlier negotiations, they were on their way to the suburbs.
Even if the area is stuck with this result we should complain to the heads of the GSA and EPA and tell them to get their internal house in order and instruct their employees to abide by government goals, priorities and Presidential Executive Orders. Federal facilities are supposed to be located in sustainable locations in sustainable communities. According to a government website sustainable communities are places that have a variety of housing and transportation choices with destinations close to home.
The local GSA office made the worst location decision possible.
When the GSA couldn’t find enough qualified bidders close to the Science and Technology lab in KCK they extended the search area from the lab and limited the search to Kansas. They had to go out 20 miles to even include this Lenexa building. Google transit calculates a 20-21 mile drive to this building from the science lab. This was the wrong decision.
It is common knowledge in this region that the EPA used to be located in Missouri. It was moved from Missouri to downtown Kansas City, Kansas apparently due to congressional pressure to help revitalize downtown KCK. (Timeline)
The GSA says they had congressional approval to extend the search distance and stay in Kansas, However, the local GSA made this determination and then submitted it to Congress for approval and received this reply, “The GSA Contracting Officer was directed to consider the expansion approved if Congress had not responded by Dec. 16, 2009. No inquiry from Congress was received.” EPA Regional Office Background April 20, 2011. So they got permission for this search area by default.
TAN believes if the rationale for being in KCK is abandoned then the reason to limit the search to Kansas is void and Missouri should have been included in the central business district search. In this case, there may not have been a need to extend the distance out to the extreme western suburbs of the region.
The federal government agrees with this position. Presidential Executive Order 13514 on Federal Leadership In Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance clearly states federal facilities should “Operate high performance sustainable buildings in sustainable locations” and ensure “that planning for new Federal facilities or new leases includes consideration of sites that are pedestrian friendly, near existing employment centers, and accessible to public transit, and emphasizes existing central cities …”
Executive Order 13514 had been in place for over a year when the GSA Solicitation For Offers (SFO) for a new location was released. Previous executive orders covering sustainability issues have been in effect since Nixon. What happened here doesn’t appear to abide by either the letter or the spirit of the Order by either the local GSA or the local EPA.
Although the EPA didn’t make the decision to move, and they don’t contract to lease buildings for federal facilities, EPA isn’t blameless. The EPA Program For Requirements document and the GSA Solicitation ignored Executive Oder 13514 and ignored sustainable communities and sustainable locations. The EPA document even fails to list their Office for Sustainable Communities. (EPA “Program Requirements” starts on page 83 of the Executed Lease Agreement)
GSA has added a page to its website regarding this move and its commitment to Executive Order 13514. It states “GSA has enthusiastically embraced that direction “, but cost was a bigger factor. This contains only a kernel of truth. Sustainable buildings have been enthusiastically embraced. However the evidence shows there was no mention of sustainable communities or locations in either the GSA or EPA “Sustainability” section of their documents. They didn’t even pretend to abide by this part of the Presidential Executive Order. Of course lower bids can be obtained if major factors are left out of the solicitation.
The building at 11201 Renner Boulevard, Lenexa doesn’t qualify as a sustainable location.
The transit situation at this location is awful. Either the buses don’t cover a long enough workday or they are too far away. If you are disabled and can’t drive or afford a $50,000 specially equipped van, you may not be able to get to work. Area ADA transit services either don’t go to Lenexa or are already overbooked. Add to this the fact that the buses are so slow hardly anyone uses them.
GSA says that less than 5% of the EPA employees use public transit. They aren’t counting all of the public transportation services. Another 75 people use the KCATA vanpool service, AdVANtage. Johnson County Transit (JCT) doesn’t have a vanpool program. So between the buses, vans and ADA public transportation services provided by KCATA and Unified Government Transit (UGT) that is closer to 100 of the 670 employees, or 15%. That is a significant number of employees who are going to lose their public transportation options.
Johnson County, where Lenexa is located, is basically a “transit desert” except for some commuter routes into downtown KCMO and the K-10 Connector to Lawrence, KS. The lack of transit service and the job sprawl in this part of the metro area are the main reasons that Kansas City rated 90 of 100 in the recent Brookings Institute report on job accessibility in the top 100 cities. JCT has no money to start new services, even though they are located in one of the richest counties in the US, but they may be able to change the routes to be closer to the facility.
Lenexa will benefit significantly if the EPA relocates there. TAN would like to see Lenexa step forward to support increased transit funding in Johnson County to improve the transit situation.
The cost issue
GSA cites the cost difference as the major reason for the choice of the new location. Of course everyone wants to save the government lots of money. However in this economic climate there is every reason to believe that a facility in Missouri, in the city center and much closer to the Science lab, could have made a comparable offer. We won’t know though since the GSA eliminated that possibility.
We can’t turn back the clock and have GSA and Urban America, the owner of the current EPA building in Kansas City, Kansas, agree to a lease. Unfortunately the lease for the Lenexa building was signed April 4, 2011. (Executed Lease Agreement)
Urban America has filed an official bid protest with the General Accountability Office (GAO) Bid Protest Forum. By July 25, 2011 the GAO has to rule on whether federal procurement law was violated. The GAO bid protest process can only result in a recommendation. Since the contract has been signed even if Urban America wins the bid protest, the likely outcome would be a recommendation to pay Urban America for the cost of the bid process. (Timeline)
There is a terrible irony to moving the EPA and the Region 7 Sustainable Communities Office to this new location. How can government agencies move employees to a location that undermines what they stand for and the work they are committed to do?
TAN believes that the federal government must lead by example as stated in the Executive Order. The federal government should not add to the job-sprawl in Johnson County in direct conflict of a Presidential Executive Order, especially when there was such an obvious alternative by allowing Missouri facilities to compete.
Even if the GSA is not found guilty of breaking the law it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t complain to keep this from happening again.
Contact the EPA and GSA to let them know what you think about their actions and tell them both locally and in Washington, D.C. to implement the “Recommendations for Sustainable Siting of Federal Facilities”.
Washington D.C.- Administrator of the General Services Administration, Martha N. Johnson (202) 501-0800 email@example.com
Two special email addresses have been established to collect comments about this move: Washington D.C. office firstname.lastname@example.org, Local office email@example.com
Washington D.C.- Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa P. Jackson firstname.lastname@example.org
Local EPA Office Phone: (913) 551-7003, Region 7 EPA Regional Administrator – Karl Brooks x7303 Brooks.Karl@epa.gov
Additional reading – Kaid Benefield’s blog http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/epa_region_7_we_were_just_kidd.html