Who leases office space to the feds remains a mystery
After deciding to profile Franklin L. Haney as part of our Stealthy Wealthy series, an obvious question soon posed itself: Exactly how much have Haney's companies collected over the years in leasing office space to the federal government?
The answer — or rather non-answer — to the question says less about Haney than it does about the limits on what the public can know about how its tax dollars are being spent.
News reports stated that his company, through a variety of limited liability corporations and real estate partnerships, had leases for office space worth many millions of dollars dating back to the Nixon Administration for such agencies as the Federal Communications Commission, the Social Security Administration, and the Tennessee Valley Administration, and stretching from Tennessee to Alabama to Georgia to the nation's capital. However, a comprehensive picture was lacking. The Haney company did not respond to our queries.
Nonetheless, at first it seemed like an answer might be near at hand. After all, two different government websites–the General Service Administration (GSA) and USAspending.gov–both post online data about federal leases.
Digging in, however, revealed the limitations of these data.
The GSA provides a downloadable spreadsheet of federal leases on this Lease Inventory web page. A few clicks and you have in hand a full list of current leases for all federal offices, updated monthly.
However, the only information provided on the spreadsheet about the lessor is its name. There is no other identifying information, such as the street address. And the names of these lessors can be obscure, to say the least. Just glancing down the list, you see names such as "157 Church LLC," "Grunberg 628 Hebron LLC," and "Duke Secured-Financing 2009-1 ALZ, LLC," with no clue about where they are based or who owns them.
Through other research we knew that Haney is part of a partnership that leases space to the Federal Communications Commission at the Portals development in southwest Washington, to the Federal Communications Commission, and that the name of that partnership was "Parcel 49C." Do a search for that name and sure enough, there's an entry for a lease with a current annual rent of $31.5 million listing the FCC's address, 445 12th Street, SW. But had we not known the name of the partnership, we would not have been able to find that information.
We knew we didn't have a complete list of Haney's partnerships. Many searches of publicly available information had revealed that he has done business under a long list of obscure names, such as Tower Associates II, Inc., Hill East Development LLC, and Dulles Express LLC.
We asked the GSA press office if it would be possible to receive street address information for the lessors in the database. We figured that armed with those addresses, we could do a reverse search for addresses that Haney has listed as places of business in Washington, and Chattanooga, Tenn.
However, a GSA press spokesman informed Sunlight that to receive such information, we'd have to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. While we've done so, typically it takes months to receive information from government agencies after filing a FOIA request.
The GSA database has another drawback: the monthly reports on the website are available only dating back to July 2011 and showed only current leases. From press reports, we knew that some of Haney's leases had expired. Where to find that information?
USAspending.gov, the website that allows users to search for government contracting information, might be another resource. It also contains information about government leases. A search there for the Franklin L. Haney Company indeed turned up $22.5 million in dollars obligated in Alabama to the GSA and to the Social Security Administration (SSA) from 1999 to 2011. These amounts most likely cover the leases that Haney's company had with the SSA in a downtown Birmingham office until it moved locations in 2008. However, the leases extended back before those dates and also go beyond them, so it is difficult to tell.
Searching for other Haney properties proved difficult. Through the advanced search, we were able to search by zip code of the vendor, export the records, and then look for the addresses where we knew Haney did business. But this search yielded nothing but the Alabama contracts we'd already gotten from searching the name of his main company. Searching for the LLCs that we suspected he was involved in did not yield any additional information. Yet we knew from the Franklin L. Haney Company website and news reports that he had leased properties to other agencies, for example, the Internal Revenue Service. It's possible that the company's only current lease is with the FCC, but it is difficult to confirm. Haney's office did not reply to a request for an interview.
We wll wait to see the result of our FOIA to the GSA asking for lessor addresses. This many not yield all the information we'd like to get, but it may be a start.
WHAT: Federal lease information
WHERE: The General Services Administration (GSA) maintains this webpage with downloadable spreadsheets of current federal leases.
USABILITY: The only information provided about the lessor is the name. USASpending.gov has lease information with names of vendor and addresses, but it is difficult to know if it is complete.
(Illustration credit: Franklin L. Haney Company)