Asbestos Inspections Lag on Federal Buildings

MONDAY, MARCH 11, 2024

A U.S. Government Accountability Office report has found that almost two-thirds of federal buildings were out of compliance with the General Services Administration asbestos inspection policy.

Of the 638 out of compliance, hundreds of those buildings reportedly have not had a GSA conducted inspection in over a decade.

GAO Report Findings

According to the release, the GSA is responsible for the cost of cleaning up environmental contaminants—such as asbestos—on federal property. Contaminants can also make it harder or more costly for the GSA to sell buildings that the government no longer needs, officials explain.

Currently, the GSA requires asbestos inspections every five years for each federal building built before 1998. The administration annually reports its environmental liabilities across three categories: asbestos, non-asbestos (e.g., lead paint) and hazardous releases (e.g., petroleum).

The GSA then uses a formula to estimate the costs to address asbestos and non-asbestos contamination, which reportedly together account for 95% of its annually reported liabilities.

Liability estimates for hazardous releases on site-specific information are gathered by GSA's regional environmental managers. The GSA's estimated environmental liabilities were largely stable between fiscal years 2018 and 2022, ranging from $1.8 to $2.0 billion, the GAO reports.

The GAO explains that it did this study because GSA's cleanup of environmental liabilities on federal properties represents a fiscal exposure for the federal government, which is high on its High-Risk list.

GAO was asked to review how GSA estimates and manages its environmental liabilities, including:

  • How GSA estimates environmental liabilities; and
  • How GSA manages environmental contaminants and the extent to which GSA follows its asbestos management policy.

Additionally, the GAO reportedly reviewed GSA's asbestos management policy, annual financial reports, cost estimation formulas, budget and expenditure information, real property data, and conducted three site visits. GAO also interviewed GSA officials, contractors and subject matter experts.

According to GSA data, approximately two-thirds of buildings (638 of 955) were out of compliance with the 5-year inspection policy. Buildings out of compliance reportedly include hundreds in which GSA has not conducted an inspection in more than a decade or does not know when the most recent inspection occurred.

GSA officials provided several reasons these buildings are out of compliance with GSA's asbestos inspection policy, including funding and staffing challenges, incomplete records and limitations with the database used to track asbestos inspections.

Officials added they are developing a comprehensive plan for completing required inspections and considering changes to the asbestos policy to follow a more risk-based approach. However, they have not yet identified specifics of this plan, including timelines for completing required inspections or for modifying the policy.

As a result, GSA explains, it does not have key data needed to monitor asbestos and protect health and safety.

“The Administrator of GSA should either implement a plan to ensure that asbestos inspections are conducted in accordance with GSA's current asbestos management policy or revise the policy to incorporate a risk-based approach,” recommended the GAO.

“Such a plan could include strategies to address funding gaps, a timeline for completing missing inspections or updating the asbestos management policy, and steps to update the IRIS database to allow GSA to better monitor compliance with the policy.”

According to the accountability office, the GSA has agreed with the recommendation and stated it is developing a plan to address it.


Tagged categories: Asbestos; Cleanup; Environmental Control; Environmental Controls; Environmental Controls; Good Technical Practice; Government; hazardous materials; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Inspection; NA; North America; Office Buildings; Program/Project Management; Public Buildings

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