GSA hasn’t performed asbestos inspections at 66% of buildings requiring them, GAO says

General Services Administration officials charged with ensuring that asbestos contained in some federal buildings does not pose a potential health hazard to their occupants have failed to conduct required inspections, sometimes for decades.

TO Government Accountability Office Report released Monday examining GSA's environmental responsibilities for managing federal properties found that 638 buildings it oversees have not had inspections over the past five years, as required by the agency's own asbestos management policy.

A mineral commonly used in construction and fire protection of buildings until the 1970s, asbestos can cause various forms of cancer when its fibers are inhaled. With more than 1,000 federal buildings containing hazardous materials such as asbestos, lead paint and others, GSA policies required inspections every five years on all buildings built before 1998 to ensure that any asbestos present is contained and undisturbed.

But GAO's analysis of GSA's own databases found that 66% of the 955 buildings had not had required inspections, and 32% of those that had not received inspections for between 10 and 20 years.

"GSA officials provided several reasons for the large number of buildings that do not comply with GSA's policy of completing asbestos inspections every five years, including limited funding, staffing shortages, and incomplete records and limitations of databases," the report says. "These officials stated that there is no specific funding to complete asbestos inspections, which must compete with other priorities, such as large construction projects or, at one site, electric vehicle projects."

GSA officials also told GAO that some of their regions have only one staff member, known as an “industrial hygienist,” responsible for monitoring asbestos inspections and the contractors who perform them. Those industrial hygienists also perform other tasks such as “monitoring asbestos remediation and abatement projects and addressing incidents that pose immediate health and safety risks,” which divide their time.

Agency officials also attributed some of the lack of inspection compliance to some buildings not having their completed asbestos inspection studies uploaded to GSA's Inventory Reporting Information System database, where it is stored. and tracks asbestos information.

The report also noted that regional officials may have difficulty uploading inspection surveys to IRIS due to lack of staff and database file upload limitations. In fact, GSA officials do not have the ability within the database to track when an inspection has been completed because it does not have the functionality to do so.

"Specifically, while IRIS can store inspection data, the database cannot provide an overview of which buildings have inspections and when the next inspection should be completed," the report says. "As a result, GSA headquarters officials said they must conduct time-consuming manual searches in IRIS to determine the inspection status of the approximately 1,000 buildings that fall under GSA's 5-year inspection policy."

GAO noted that of the 638 buildings that did not comply with the inspection policy, 228 buildings did not know when their last inspection was conducted.

GSA officials told the watchdog they requested $500,000 in the fiscal year 2024 budget to update the IRIS database and fund additional inspections, which can cost up to $20,000 each, and are considering inspection policy changes that would They could include reducing the frequency of inspections, excluding low-risk buildings and other potential changes.

The GAO offered a recommendation, asking the GSA Administrator to develop a plan to ensure inspections are conducted in accordance with policy or to develop a new risk-based policy. GSA officials agreed with the recommendation.

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