Concerns have been raised that federal agencies may not have been considering locating facilities in rural areas, as required by the Rural Development Act of 1972 (RDA), despite recent advances in telecommunications technology. GAO found that, since its 1990 report (GGD-90-109) on this issue, federal agencies generally continue to be located in higher cost, urban areas. Eight of the 13 cabinet agencies surveyed had no formal RDA siting policy, and there was little evidence that agencies considered RDA's requirements when siting new federal facilities. Furthermore, GSA has not developed the cost-conscious, governmentwide location policy recommended by GAO in 1990. In GAO's survey, the sites that involved relocated operations still largely remained in urban areas, while the sites that involved newly established operations were more evenly spread over rural and urban areas. Federal agencies' mission requirements, such as the need to be near clients or other organizations, apparently have led them to select urban areas. GAO found that government functions, such as research and development, data processing, accounting and finance, and teleservice centers, can be located in rural areas. Although it is unclear from the information GAO collected whether any of the federal agencies that located sites in urban areas could have located them in rural areas, it is clear is that RDA has not had the influence on federal siting practices that Congress intended. Many agencies had no RDA policy, as required by the act, and many agency personnel in GAO's survey either did not consider RDA or did not know whether the act was used in making their site selection.
Matter for Congressional Consideration
|Congress may wish to consider (1) enacting legislation to require agencies to consider, along with their missions and program requirements, real estate, labor, and other operational costs and applicable local incentives when deciding whether to relocate or establish a new site in a rural or urban area and (2) amending the Rural Development Act to clarify the definition of "rural area" for facility siting purposes to facilitate its implementation.||As of February 2005, Congress had not acted on this recommendation. However, GSA took action to improve related guidance in response to our other recommendations for this report. These actions are described in more detail in the "status comments" section for those GSA recommendations.|
Recommendations for Executive Action
|General Services Administration||The Administrator, GSA, should revise its guidance on federal facility siting to (1) advise customer agencies that they should consider, along with their missions and program requirements, real estate, labor, and other operational costs and applicable local incentives when deciding whether to relocate or establish a new site in a rural or urban area, (2) require that each federal agency subject to GSA's authority provide a written statement to GSA demonstrating that, in selecting a new facility location, the agency, as required by the Rural Development Act, had given first priority to locating in a rural area, and if a rural area was not selected, the agency's justification for the decision, and (3) define the term "rural area" to provide its customer agencies with a single definition for purposes of federal siting under the Rural Development Act, until Congress amends RDA to define the term.|