Office Space: Who Really Owns Real Estate Leased By the U.S. Government?

By Natalie Duffy

A report conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) into real estate leased by the General Services Administration (GSA) has revealed some startling weaknesses in the security of some U.S. law enforcement offices.

According to the report, it is impossible to identify the true beneficial owners of foreign-owned buildings used for about one-third of the federal government’s 1,400 “high-security” leases. The GAO noted that “a number of FBI, Homeland Security, Secret Service, and Drug Enforcement Agency offices across the country are housed in space leased from firms based in China and other nations.”

This not only means heightened vulnerability to espionage and cyber hacks, but the absurd possibility of law enforcement agencies being based in buildings owned by the international criminals or malign foreign powers they are tasked with investigating.

Even more disconcerting is the fact that nine of the 14 agencies surveyed were unaware that their building space was not U.S. owned.  This is likely due to current requirements for leasing office space, stating that the GSA is not required to determine whether a building is foreign-owned prior to leasing it. GSA “provides centralized procurement for the federal government, offering billions of dollars worth of products, services, and facilities that federal agencies need to serve the public.”

The report offered one glaring recommendation: “That GSA determine whether the beneficial owner of high-security leased space is a foreign entity and, if so, share that information with the tenant agencies for any needed security mitigation. GSA agreed with the recommendation.”

The implementation of this recommendation is vital to ensuring that the U.S. protects itself from foreign intrustion and influence. Lawmakers from both parties agree: “I hope this is a wake-up call,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).

Natalie Duffy is a Research Associate at Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative. Follow her on Twitter.