Schmoke wants Clinton to review HCFA decision

January 13, 1993|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer Staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that he has asked President-elect Bill Clinton to launch an independent examination of the decision to build the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration headquarters in GOP-controlled Baltimore County.

Mr. Schmoke charged that Republican politics influenced the August decision by the U.S. General Services Administration to locate the headquarters in Woodlawn, instead of in the city, north of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

In addition, he said, the city is supporting protests by the losing developer -- Inner Harbor West Joint Venture, made up of the Rouse Co., Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. and the Henson Co. -- through the federal government's administrative appeals process.

"The city is supporting the . . . appeal, and I have asked the president-elect to take a look at it . . . because I believe political factors did come into play in making that decision," Mr. Schmoke said at a breakfast with reporters.

But while he said he wrote to Mr. Clinton before this month's inauguration in an attempt to start the review before the Woodlawn project got too far along, he may have been too late.

Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, who lobbied heavily for the county site, said that within the past two weeks the GSA purchased the 57-acre tract of land past Security Boulevard. In addition, she said, the agency has signed the $122.6 million contract with the winning bidder, a joint venture of Boston Properties Inc. and James F. Knott Development Corp. of Towson.

"If there were any decision reversed at this point, then the developers would be entitled to all their out-of-pocket expenses and their profit from the deal, which would cost the government many, many, many millions of dollars," Mrs. Bentley said.

Besides, she said, "we'd have to go through the entire procurement process again, which would mean a three- to four-year delay, and then you're talking about the possibility of West Virginia, which is after as many public buildings as they can get, getting it."

On politics being a factor in the decision, Mrs. Bentley said: "The mayor's absolutely wrong."

A spokesman for the GSA regional office in Philadelphia also denied yesterday that politics played a role in the decision but declined to comment on the rationale for the selection because of the three appeals pending before the U.S. General Accounting Office.

"This issue of politics entering into the decision-making process has been raised before, but this decision was made based on the merits of the two proposals," said John C. Thompson, director of business and public affairs for GSA's regional office.

The appeals from the losing bidder, to be decided March 14, are three different statements of grounds for overturning the GSA decision.

The GSA's request for proposals created a bitter battle between the county and city, as both jurisdictions -- knowing that the result of the HCFA siting would mean a local economic boon -- lobbied with the private developers to bring the project home. The new 800,000-square-foot-plus building is expected to be the biggest office project built in the area during the first half of the 1990s. HCFA has 2,800 to 2,900 employees in the area and is expected to have 3,300 within five years.

Mr. Schmoke denied that he was asking Mr. Clinton to do what he was accusing the Republicans of -- injecting partisan politics into the procurement process.

He said, instead, he was merely asking Mr. Clinton -- whom he advised and heavily campaigned for -- to review the decision and either uphold it or overturn it "based on objective criteria."

The mayor said, "I'm not sure the decision-makers in Washington who made the final decision made it without consideration of political factors."

Both Mrs. Bentley and Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden, also a Republican, complained yesterday that politics entered the selection process when Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, was successful in pushing an amendment to a bill that directed the GSA to consider sites in both Baltimore and Woodlawn -- instead of just the county.

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