TESTIMONY of COLLEEN McCARTHY
Mayor, City of Helena
General Services Administration

Good morning. I'm Colleen McCarthy, Mayor, City of Helena. I would like to thank Senator Baucus and members of this committee for allowing us an opportunity to discuss our experiences with the General Services Administration. During the past year we have become extremely frustrated and concerned with the lack of communication, misrepresentation and the actions of GSA officials. First, I would like to state for the record, those GSA representatives currently residing in the Helena area, have been most helpful and understanding, our frustration lies with GSA representatives in the Denver office.

I became directly involved in working with GSA representatives regarding the Helena Federal Building lease, almost one year. As mayor, I received a letter informing us GSA was considering lease renewal options on the existing Federal building. During our conversations with GSA officials, it became apparent, they would be considering lease options on buildings other than the existing structure and possibility areas outside the Central Business District. On May 20, 1997 I sent a letter to Polly Baca, Regional Administrator for GSA, advising her the consensus of the Helena City Commission, was that, GSA aggressively pursue lease options with the owner of the existing structure. I also clearly stated, if the decision was made to move from the current building, they must comply with Executive Order 12072 and relocate in the central business district.

Between the dates of May 20 and August 1, correspondence between the Denver GSA office and the city of Helena continued through our city manager Troy McGee. In late July, city manager McGee received a request from Julie Milner asking the city for permission to issue an REP to pursue a warehouse location outside the Central Business District. Mr. McGee brought the request to the City Commission, the request was for a storage type building with few offices and minimal employees.

In the spirit of cooperation, the City Commission granted approval for the REP outside the central business district. Days after the approval, we learned that the true intentions of GSA were not only to find warehouse space but to also relocate two entire departments, the Federal Highway Administration and the USGS . Numerous employees would be relocated.

When we challenged GSA's intentions and mix’2Dcommunication, it was our city manager who was accused of falsely representing GSA's request to the city commission. After numerous conversations, GSA officials continued to insist our city manager had misrepresented their request. These allegations persisted, even after we provided documentation outlining their request and the city's position. I wanted to provide you with this one example of the lack of accountability and cooperation by GSA officials. This demonstrates just one of several examples of continued misinformation and frustration in dealing with their Denver office.

I know my time here today is limited. However, as a representative of the Helena community I believe it is imperative my testimony clearly provides you with factual data that will support a decision, to aggressively pursue options, that will allow federal employees to remain in the current federal building or at minimum remain in the central business district.

In the 1970's the city of Helena worked in cooperation with the General Services Administration to locate a new federal building in downtown Helena. Here is a quote from the "Findings of Fact" from the Determination of Site Selection document:

"The city of Helena is aggressively pursing an Urban Renewal Plan to revitalize the old downtown area and sees the new (Federal) building as an integral contribution to their long range goals. There has been no adverse reaction to the project in the local communitythe proposed site is an example of inter’2Dgovernmental cooperation to minimize socio-economic impact."

I submit to you today, the Federal building continues to be an integral contribution to our long range goals as a community and in the downtown area . I find it ironic, this has turned into the worst example of inter’2Dgovernmental cooperation and miscommunication.

During Urban Renewal, the city of Helena invested millions in infrastructure to enable the construction and placement of the Federal Building in our Downtown. Street systems were redesigned and constructed, additional land was acquired to provide adequate parking and sewer and water services were extended, much at local taxpayer expense. Today, officials of the Government Services Administration are asking us to ignore the huge investment of tax payer money in the current building site. We simply can not ignore the substantial investment local citizens and taxpayer's made over 20 years ago all in the spirit of cooperation and trust with the GSA.

In 1976 President Carter issued executive order 12072. He believed federal use of space in urban areas "shall serve to strengthen the Nation's cities and make them attractive places to work."

Currently, officials of GSA are not keeping with the spirit of the executive order. Repeated attempts have been made to extend the boundary of the Executive Order without fully investigating the options available within the central business district. GSA has repeatedly asked the city of Helena to allow RFP's to be solicited outside the district. We believe this action is in direct conflict with the executive order. An example of this conflict, is reflected in the fact that GSA has given little consideration to the traffic problems that will occur within our community if 300 plus employees are located outside the central business district. Even worst is the possibility of locating 300 plus employees in an area that is currently experiencing severe traffic congestion and safety issues. GSA officials appear to care little about potential traffic impacts and future infrastructure costs for Helena taxpayers.

Lastly, I would like to briefly discuss the situation regarding the existing Federal Building. In a meeting with GSA officials on October 30, 1997, they stated the current lease arrangement was a "bad deal for government." However, they have repeatedly refused to provide financial data as to why this lease is a "bad deal for government. "

On November 26, 1997 I was asked to address a group of concerned federal executives currently working in Federal building. During this meeting numerous employees expressed satisfaction with the location of the building in downtown Helena. However, many employees expressed serious concerns with perceived safety issues and the structural stability of the building. Currently, GSA officials are claiming to have documentation, in the Merrick Report, that substantiates $13’2D$16 million dollars in identified improvements, including safety issues. However, the building owner hired an independent structural engineer who claims that the building IS structurally sound. The engineer identified only $7 million in improvements from the Merrick Report not $13’2D16 million.

As a result of these conflicting reports, many of your federal employees feel their safety is at risk. I believe, from the testimony you have heard here today, it is imperative you address the safety issues of these federal employees above all else. No employee, whether they work in a high risk industry or a clerical position in the federal government, should feel their safety is at risk while on the job. It is the recommendation of the Helena City Commission that you to require GSA officials to work cooperatively with the current federal building owner, resolving the potential safety issues within the building and extending the current lease agreement, if at all possible.

I would like to thank you for your time this morning. These issues are serious, the actions of GSA could have devastating impacts to our community. We are not Denver, Houston or even Salt Lake City. We are a small community of 35,000 people who still believe your word is as biding as a legal document and that government, whether it be local, state or federal is charged with protecting and preserving the communities we have all worked so hard to build and call home. Thank you.