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April 2008

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


An Interview with PBS Commissioner David Winstead

David L. Winstead was named Commissioner of the General Services Administration Public Buildings Service in October 2005. Before joining GSA, he was a partner in a major Washington, DC law firm, practicing in the areas of real estate, transportation, public law, project development and procurement. He served as Maryland's Secretary of Transportation from 1995 to 1998, and had been executive director of the Washington/Baltimore Regional Association, a private sector economic development alliance.

Q: We understand that PBS has undergone significant changes in the last 20 to 30 years. What do you think PBS will look like 25 years from now?

A: GSA's Public Buildings Service has adapted as the needs of our clients change over the years. This customer focused approach will continue in the years ahead as we address the Judiciary's building operations and space needs. As we continue to refine our expertise in real estate management, site acquisition and construction, we must also focus on the Judiciary's functional needs, security and space expansions. Over the last 30 years, we have focused on innovation in areas such as Design Excellence, and our current efforts in rent containment and design guide improvements.

Historically, we have worked well with the AO, Congress and the White House/Office of Management and Budget in our efforts to deliver best value to the courts. Federal Courthouses are unique in terms of their structure, public purposes and landmark presence in our nation's communities. Since l992, we have delivered 52 new courthouses with upgraded security and courtroom technologies. Thus, we believe the expertise that has been gained over the past decades—and that we'll improve on in the next 25 years—will continue to provide value to the federal Judiciary.

Q: How would you describe the customer/client relations between the Judiciary and PBS?

A: Over the past two and a half years as Commissioner, I have had some very candid and productive discussions with AO Director, Jim Duff, Ross Eisenman, Assistant Director of the Office of Facilities and Security, and numerous distinguished judges. About the second month on the job, I met with Judge Jane Roth (3rd Cir.), who was then chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Space and Facilities, and Ross Eisenman. At those meetings, Judge Roth and Ross Eisenman presented some concerns. Although they support the architecturally brilliant courthouses constructed since 1992 through our Design Excellence Program, they questioned whether design was the focus to the sacrifice of other things that are just as important to the courts—like daily security and operations, and the long-term operation and maintenance of buildings and how that translates into costs for the courts. They were worried about the budget constraints in Congress and quite frankly about the increasing percentage of the Judiciary's ongoing budget devoted to rent. They asked for my support and management focus in providing increased efficiencies. Over the last two and a half years we've focused a lot more on those areas, and therefore restored greater balance to that equation.

We've strengthened the way we manage the national account with the Judiciary. We have a new national account manager and we've set up a number of working committees. For example, we have a committee on the asset management planning process; an appraisal working group; a courts space validation project group; and a security working group comprised of the Judiciary, GSA, the Federal Protective Service and the U.S. Marshals Service. We have an occupancy agreement working group to ensure that our understanding of space and rent and new buildings coming on line is very clear and upfront and thoroughly vetted through a signed agreement with the courts.

A great concern of Judge Joseph Bataillon (D. Neb.), current chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Space and Facilities, has been our definition of departures from the U.S. Courts Design Guide. So we spend a lot of time with a departures working group; in fact, there's another meeting in a month of that group.

We've reinitiated biannual partnering meetings not just with facility committees, but with a selected group of judges, many of whom are the points of contact in courthouses that are under construction or recently completed.

On both sides of the ledger—on the GSA Public Buildings Service's and on the Judiciary's—we have a focus on issues that are important to both parties. As a result, we really have improved the dialogue, the understanding and the transparency of how we do business, and how we can do business better in the future. I enjoy and look forward to maintaining this engagement.

Q: How does PBS bring outstanding architecture to our cities through federal courthouses—and why is that important?

A: It's important to the courts, number one. They are the occupants, and they provide a very important judicial function across the country. I think that the thrust of our efforts under the Design Excellence Program for the past 15 years, has been to provide renovated and new courthouses, which are operationally efficient, and yet, landmarks that not only are striking and functional, but really create a sense of dignity which conveys the important role that the federal Judiciary plays in the life of our society.

The Design Excellence process has been recognized throughout the United States and by many foreign governments for its achievements in elevating the quality of public architecture, something we can all be proud of. My recent project tours and discussions with judges in Washington, DC; Fresno, California; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Miami, Florida; Eugene, Oregon; Brooklyn, New York; and Springfield, Massachusetts, support this assertion.

Q: How are cost considerations balanced against top rate design?

A: Design Excellence, which is essential in selecting the best possible A/E team for each project, has been integrated with the U.S. Courts Design Guide to make sure the design process, as well as the construction and commissioning processes have catch points where—if we feel that some element of the original design will not work, or that the courts find challenging or that adds unnecessarily to cost—we have the opportunity to be certain that the design is functional and effective. Obviously, the operations of the court are of paramount concern, and design must respond to that. Based upon my initial discussions with the AO, I believe we have established a valuable balance between facility operations and building design through our partnering efforts in recent years.

Q: Thirty years ago, many federal courthouses were aging, over-crowded, technologically outmoded, and security hazards. In 1985, a courthouse construction program began that would become the largest civilian construction program authorized by Congress since the 1930s. What does the Judiciary's courthouse construction program look like today? And where is the program headed for the future?

A: As you mentioned, beginning in the 1980s and early 1990s, we undertook, with the Judicial Conference Committee on Space and Facilities, a massive courthouse construction program. We've delivered 53 new courthouses or annexes nationwide since then, and in March, 2008, I received a list of the FY 2009 - 2011 courthouse projects to be delivered in the coming years. What we are attempting to do is to refine and adjust the program rolling forward so that each year we have a very careful focus on the courthouse needs for the next five years.

I think the outcomes of the Design and Construction Excellence programs have been very successful overall. I have marveled at the engagement and enthusiasm, and sometimes, enormous patient effort that local judges have given to our projects and PBS teams around the country.

We've fulfilled a huge construction program—the largest program since the late-1930s—but the budget constraints that were imposed in 2003 and 2004 continue to weigh upon us. We've taken measures to be a lot more proactive with the AO to evaluate projects early, and to institute cost containment initiatives and construction cost benchmarking and quality assurance measures. Going forward with this five-year courthouse plan, we'll apply our Federal Buildings Fund and resources to these priorities.

Q: The Judiciary recently signed a memorandum of agreement with GSA that will revamp the method for calculating the rent paid for new courthouses. What in your view are the benefits of this arrangement?

A: The MOU we signed on February 11th really reflects a lot of effort on the part of the AO and GSA. It confirms a very strong and positive relationship that we have now and will continue to have in the future. It also makes very clear that we have a transparent framework for rent calculation.

As we look at new courthouse construction, the rent pricing methodology will be calculated according to this MOU. It will, in my judgment, be more sensitive to concerns about consistency in the calculation of rent based on a market appraisal. We've attempted to provide a rent calculated on a fair market value and return, under an ROI pricing scheme as preferred by the courts. We feel that it essentially provides a win-win framework for the Federal Buildings Fund, the federal taxpayer, as well as the courts, in terms of accuracy and predictability of rent in the future.

Q: Post-Katrina and Oklahoma City disasters, GSA helped us find alternative sites. What steps does PBS take when courthouses are not available for day-to-day use?

A: We have continuity of operation plans (COOPs) and defined steps to contain and assess damage. We immediately begin looking for relocation options for tenants whose buildings have been damaged. By our protocols, we look to our own inventory or leased facilities in the first instance, and we obviously move very quickly to try to outfit space with needed computers and office furniture in temporary locations. We collaborate with the courts to have these contingency plans in place so that we're all very clear on what our actions will be in terms of restoring operations as quickly as possible.

Although I arrived at PBS after Katrina occurred, I heard about many preventive measures that were taken by our property manager and COOP teams that protected court property and our facilities. We tracked the storms and took corrective matters to try to minimize the initial damage to the courthouses that were, in fact, impacted.

Q: What, in your mind, are the key challenges PBS faces in the near term?

A: My sense is that the near term challenges are somewhat defined by the agreements that we've laid out with the courts. PBS must continue to work closely with the AO to insure that Congress and OMB are clear on the Court priorities and funding needs. We want this partnering to continue as we strive for adequate resources in the years ahead.

A continuing challenge will be the security of our courthouses. We were asked at the February 11, 2008, partnering meeting with the AO to focus on security in the coming year. We must also continue improvements in the efficiency of our capital program delivery given the 28 percent increase in material costs we have seen over the past three years. We will continue to select architects, engineers, and contractors, based upon performance, who can deliver projects on time and on budget. Inevitably, that is a challenge on complicated court projects, but we will work tirelessly to meet that challenge on behalf of the courts.

And lastly, I would continue to hope that we have occasion to celebrate the very exciting impact your facilities have on the courts as a working environment, for the public in their engagement with the Judiciary, and in the communities the courthouses serve. Looking ahead, we have some great opportunities. We have a wonderful legacy of providing renovated as well as new work space for the Judiciary, and everyone at PBS is committed to this mission and to the federal Judiciary's needs in the future.