Why do feds have to build?

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board February 17, 2014 11:31 am

In an era when frugality is reality for many people and businesses, the federal government stubbornly goes against the grain.

For the feds it seems that the concepts of scrimping and making do with what you have rarely impede with governmental bricks-and-mortar ambition.

Never mind budget deficits and sluggish economic recovery — when some ostensible need arises, it seems there’s always half a million tax dollars available to erect another building.

As a current, and local, example, consider the situation of the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM.

Employees from the two federal agencies had shared office space for several years in a complex of modular buildings on 11th Street, just east of the Forest Service’s vehicle compound.

The modulars were never intended to be permanent, and in early December the Forest Service employees who worked there moved across town to the David J. Wheeler Federal Building. That structure already houses the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest headquarters.

The modulars are slated to be removed in September. BLM workers will move across H Street to the former New Tribes Mission complex — itself a former federal property that housed Air Force workers more than half a century ago.

The Forest Service, meanwhile, plans to build a new office, where the modulars stand now, at an estimated cost of $500,000.

The building will have office space for Forest Service fire officials and seasonal employees, as well as rooms for public meetings.

Although the Forest Service issued a few press releases last year announcing the planned move to the Wheeler Building, none mentioned replacing the modulars with a new office.

Moreover, the agency’s workforce in Baker City has been shrinking, not growing, over the past two decades.

How refreshing it would have been had the Forest Service, instead of spending half a million dollars, announced that it would consolidate its operations. Sure, things might get a bit crowded. But that problem would ease, or possibly go away altogether, during the six months or more when the seasonal employees are off at college or wherever.

Because the new building is designed to accommodate seasonal workers, during the months when there are no seasonal workers the office will contain wasted space.

Another option — a compromise, in effect — would have the Forest Service and BLM continue to share office space, this time in the New Tribes complex.

Instead the government took the third approach, and naturally what’s almost certainly the most expensive one.

One federal agency is leasing one property and a second agency is building a separate new office — and both, of course, are spending tax dollars.

This is unnecessary.

Sadly, though, it’s not surprising.