The report highlights health, safety and security concerns at federal buildings

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Below are sections from an IG report on the key management challenges faced by the GSA, focusing on building safety and air and water quality concerns in federal buildings.

Building security management of the GSA

GSA’s management of building security measures is critical because issues could pose fire, safety and health risks to GSA’s building occupants, contractors, personnel, the public and federal property. However, recent audit reports have shown that the GSA faces challenges in this area.

For example, in February 2022, we reported that PBS failed to comply with federal regulations and its own policy for handling asbestos at the Chet Holifield Federal Building (CHFB).30 As a result, CHFB tenants, visitors, contractors, and PBS employees were at increased risk of an Exposure to materials containing asbestos. We found that PBS:

• failing to maintain a reliable inventory of materials containing asbestos for the CHFB or update the CHFB’s asbestos management plan;

• Failure to notify building occupants of the presence and location of asbestos-containing materials in accordance with federal and state regulations and PBS guidelines; and

• Provides insufficient oversight of CHFB’s O&M service provider.

We have also found that PBS’s Asbestos Policy contains ambiguous and conflicting information, which can result in inconsistent application of the policy by PBS employees and non-compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

In March 2022, we reported that PBS has not identified all high-risk uses of space under GSA control because it does not effectively manage its fire, safety and health program.31 As a result, PBS has not taken any action to eliminate or mitigate potential fire, Safety and health hazards arising from the high-risk use of space, or any incompatible occupant activities, are identified and addressed.

Security deficiencies in GSA facilities

Our reports also highlight significant security challenges for GSA facilities. For example, in June 2022 we reported on deficiencies in surveillance cameras and alarm systems in GSA-owned buildings.32 The specific findings of our report are not publicly available; However, we have found that although the GSA and the US Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protection Service have reached an agreement to coordinate the long-standing issues identified in our report, little action is being taken to address the situation.

The deficiencies identified in our surveillance cameras and alarm systems report, along with our previous reports on security at GSA facilities, show that physical security remains a challenge for GSA. In January 2020, we reported significant security vulnerabilities at childcare centers in GSA-controlled facilities.33 In September 2021, we reported pervasive deficiencies in site security and security operations and management at a high-risk GSA building.34

GSA is taking corrective action to address these deficiencies. For example, GSA received $15 million through the Consolidated Appropriation Act, 2022 to address safety deficiencies at its child care centers identified in our January 2020 report.35 GSA officials told us they are actively planning projects to using these funds to improve security in these facilities. Notwithstanding these efforts, our continued results in this area demonstrate that GSA management’s continued attention is needed.

ventilation and air filtration

CDC guidance for businesses and employers responding to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) recommends improving building ventilation to reduce concentrations of airborne virus particles and slow the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace . CDC recommendations include increasing outside air intake and improving central air filtration. During FY2022, we issued two reports identifying deficiencies in ventilation and air filtration at GSA-owned facilities.

• In a March 2022 management alert, we reported that ventilation at the child care center at GSA headquarters was inadequate.37 Although GSA took mitigating measures to address the inadequate ventilation at the child care center, these efforts were not effective. For example, PBS uses window air conditioners to supply the center with fresh air. However, the air conditioning systems were not in continuous operation and only supply a negligible amount of fresh air. We also found that the levers for opening and closing the fresh air vents were defective on three of the five air conditioning systems.

• In September 2022, we reported that PBS faces challenges in its efforts to improve air filtration in GSA-controlled facilities to prevent exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.38 We found that PBS met the recommended air filters in some GSA -Cannot install own facilities because aging HVAC systems cannot handle MERV 13 air filters. Additionally, PBS does not consistently verify that O&M contractors change air filters or meet preventative maintenance requirements for air handling units in GSA-owned facilities. We also found that PBS does not consistently inspect GSA leased space to ensure air filters meet lease requirements. In some cases, rental companies used non-compliant air filters or did not change them regularly. As a result, at some GSA-controlled facilities, PBS uses air filters that are less efficient at capturing airborne viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19.

water quality

Reduced occupancy rates during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed for water stagnation at federal facilities. On July 22, 2021, the CDC released guidance on reopening buildings after extended shutdowns or restricted operations. The guidance states that “temporary closure or reduced operation of a building (e.g. a school or childcare facility) and reductions in normal water use may pose hazards to returning residents”. It also states that before reopening after a long period of non-use, the building must be assessed for hazards. The CDC states that a “prolonged period” for lead and copper contamination can range from hours or days to weeks or months, depending on sanitation and water-related factors. The CDC goes on to explain that a period of weeks or months with minimal water flow can also encourage the growth of Legionella bacteria, among other factors.

In September 2022, we issued an alert memorandum notifying the GSA that PBS had not conducted effective water contamination testing prior to the reopening of GSA childcare centers that had been closed during the pandemic.39 We noted that PBS prior Non-water testing daycare centers closed during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the reopening of almost all childcare facilities. While PBS has since tested the water at a few daycares, those tests have not been comprehensive. As such, PBS has no assurance that children and staff at the day care centers have access to safe drinking water.

As outlined above, challenges remain as GSA and rental agencies return to facilities in greater numbers. Accordingly, GSA must continue to monitor and implement evolving guidelines from federal, state, and local health authorities. GSA must also ensure adequate ventilation and air filtration at GSA facilities and address the potential risk of contaminated water in facilities where reduced occupancy has resulted in water stagnation.

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