President Donald Trump has already made most of his critical cabinet and senior official appointments, and many of them are facing closely-watched confirmation hearings on the Senate floor. But there is one obscure appointment that could this time around become as politicized as any: Administrator of the General Services Administration, or GSA.
The GSA is essentially the federal government’s real estate arm. It holds or leases more than 376 million square feet in 9,600 buildings nationwide. Over 90 buildings and over 11 million square feet of that are in New York City.
While Trump is yet to name his agency head, the GSA does have an acting administrator, Tim Horne, who headed GSA’s internal transition and who took over the agency’s top position shortly after the inauguration, replacing an Obama appointee, Norman Dong, who only served eight hours in the position.
And depending on how long Horne’s tenure lasts, he could make two enormous real estate decisions, both of which have a lot to do with Trump’s life as a developer.
First, the Trump Organization leases land for it’s Old Post Office hotel in Washington from the federal government, a lease that many argue violates GSA rules because Donald Trump, in effect, is now his own landlord. Horne could be the one to finally declare GSA’s official position on whether or not the arrangement is a violation.
The second decision involves Trump’s business partner, longtime buddy, and now co-head of a government infrastructure spending advisory council, Steven Roth. The CEO of Vornado Realty Trust is one of a handful of bidders – the list includes another Trump friend, Larry Silverstein – for the $2 billion contract to build a new FBI headquarters in the Washington suburbs. GSA will ultimately choose the winning bidder, with a decision expected in March.
As GSA is lower down the list of priorities than appointments to cabinet positions or the Supreme Court, it could take months for Trump to announce Horne’s replacement. Which means Horne is likely to be around to make these big-ticket decisions, former officials and those close to the GSA transition said.
So, who is Tim Horne? He’s a 24-year GSA veteran who most recently served as the Rocky Mountain regional commissioner for the Public Buildings Service before directing GSA’s internal transition effort. Those who know him from the agency say he’s not likely to ruffle feathers in the executive branch.
“Your job [as administrator] is to follow the direction of the current administration — doesn’t matter if you agree with it,” said Thomas H. Walker, former regional commissioner for Public Buildings in the Southeast Region. “Tim’s really good with that.”
Being GSA administrator “is not an easy task to begin with, during the normal course of business,” said Terry Reddick, a former area liaison for Public Buildings Service. “If anything, Tim is going to be cautious.”
And there are reasons why it might serve Trump well to keep a non-political, nonpartisan pick in the acting administrator post for longer than normal, others said.
“My suspicion is that Trump is reticent to appoint a person to GSA because of the controversy around the Old Post Office,” said one real estate industry veteran familiar with the agency’s transition.
If Trump makes a political appointment, and that person allows the hotel lease to continue, critics may charge that the new administrator did so at Trump’s behest, and for his benefit. If Roth gets the FBI building contract, Trump might face similar criticism.
Although GSA typically awards these contracts without any involvement from the Oval Office, Don Peebles, a developer who met with Trump during the transition period, told Bisnow he thought Trump would make it his business to get involved in the FBI building contract, but that it just wouldn’t be political.
“I don’t think the politics are going to go into his decision,” Peebles said. “I think the way he’s going to govern is based on what makes a prudent decision.”
As for possible Horne replacements, Bob MacKichan, who was involved in GSA’s transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration, told Bisnow said he expects the eventual administrator to be someone from Trump’s real estate realm.
The appointment is “generally not very controversial,” Walker said, but the current showdown in Congress, could mean there may be some drama ahead.