Payment for Improvements to Private Property Leased to Government

B-198629: Jul 28, 1980

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GAO was asked whether statutory law prohibits the government from paying for the installation of high-intensity lights at a parking lot as a safety measure, and whether the government would be liable if someone were injured as a result of inadequate lighting in the parking lot. The facility is leased by the General Services Administration (GSA) to house various federal agencies. As a result of three attempted assaults on women in the parking lot, the National Rape Center recommended the installation of high-intensity lights. Thereafter, at the Public Health Service's (PHS) request, the Federal Protective Service surveyed the north parking lot. Among other things, the Service found that adequate lighting would reduce further incidents. However, GSA has refused to approve installation of high-intensity lighting. GSA base its refusal on decisions by GAO holding that appropriated funds may not be used for the permanent improvement of privately owned property in the absence of express statutory authority. GAO held that as a general rule appropriated funds are not available for improvement of private property. However, the government is authorized by statutory law to expend up to 25 percent of the first year rent for repairs, alterations or improvements to the facility. Also, if the installation of the high-intensity lights could be shown to contribute to the economy or efficiency of the government, the Administrator of GSA could waive the 25-percent limitation on improvements provided the total cost of rent, repairs, alterations, and improvements to the government for the expected life of the lease is less than the cost of alternative space which needs no repairs, alterations, or improvements. Further, GAO held that the possible legal liability of the United States for an employee's injury caused by inadequate lighting is not a sufficient basis for the installation of high-intensity lights at the facility. Finally, GAO suggested that GSA and PHS should explore with local authorities the possibility that the owner of the facility is not complying with applicable local regulations or ordinances concerning lighting of parking lots. If the owner is not, then GSA and PHS should seek to enforce compliance, thereby, eliminating the need to spend appropriated funds for improvements to private property.