Federal Buildings:

Many Are Threatened by Earthquakes, but Limited Action Has Been Taken

GGD-92-62: Published: May 6, 1992. Publicly Released: May 6, 1992.

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J. William Gadsby
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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO provided information on: (1) the number and value of federally owned and leased buildings in areas of seismic risk; and (2) federal agencies' efforts to reduce those buildings' vulnerability.

GAO found that: (1) about 40 percent of federally owned or leased buildings are located in seismically active areas, with about 15 percent of buildings located in areas of high to very high seismic risk; (2) the total acquisition value of 183,000 federally owned buildings in areas of moderate to very high seismic risk is about $34 billion; (3) buildings' construction type and soil properties contribute to their vulnerability to earthquake damage; (4) most agencies lack comprehensive data on those factors, making it difficult to determine the extent of building vulnerability; (5) the six federal agencies that manage over 85 percent of federal space have made only limited seismic safety or risk reduction efforts; (6) agencies attributed their slow progress in completing seismic studies to limited funding and competing design and construction projects, and four agencies estimated that it would require a total of $2 billion to complete engineering studies and retrofit projects; and (7) while three agencies have programs that give priority to leasing seismically safe space, the other three agencies assume that leased buildings are safe if constructed according to local building codes, which do not necessarily ensure seismic safety.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congressional action is no longer needed to implement this recommendation because the President issued Executive Order 12941 on December 1, 1994, which implements this recommendation. It sets a four-year timeframe for agencies to develop an inventory of all buildings they own or lease and estimate the costs of mitigating seismic risks in any buildings that do not meet the standards that were developed by the Interagency Committee on Seismic Safety in Construction (ICSSC). By December 1, 1995, the executive order requires ICSSC to establish requirements that agencies must meet in developing their inventory and cost estimate.

    Matter: Given the lack of comprehensive information on the vulnerability of federal buildings and the high cost of retrofitting buildings, Congress may wish to consider targeting initial funds for the rigorous studies needed to identify: (1) agencies' most vulnerable buildings; and (2) the costs associated with reducing their seismic risk. Congress could then identify priorities and judiciously allocate scarce resources for costly retrofits of the most vulnerable federal buildings.


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