Of buildings leased by GSA and occupied by federal agencies that require higher levels of security protection, at least 20–which house 26 tenant agencies, covering 3.3. million square feet at an annual cost of $97 million–have foreign ownership, GAO has reported.
“Federal officials who assess foreign investments in the United States and some tenant agencies occupying high-security leased space told GAO that leasing space in foreign-owned buildings could present security risks such as espionage and unauthorized cyber and physical access,” said the report.
Buildings owned by companies based in countries including Canada, China, Israel, Japan, and South Korea house for example six FBI and three DEA field offices; tenant agencies use the space for classified operations and to store law enforcement evidence and sensitive data, GAO said.
It said the issue might be more widespread than it could determine, since it was unable to identify building owners for about a third of GSA’s 1,400 high-security leases. Further, nine of the 14 tenant agencies GAO contacted were unaware that the space they occupy is in a building that we identified as foreign owned, it said.
“Federal agencies are required to assess and address the risks to their high-security facilities but GSA does not inform tenants when leasing space from foreign owners. When leasing space, GSA is required, among other things, to determine whether the prospective lessor is a responsible party, but foreign ownership is not one of the factors that it must consider. As a result, tenants may be unaware that they are occupying foreign-owned space and not know whether they need to address any security risks associated with such foreign ownership,” said GAO.
It said GSA agreed with its recommendation to determine the ownership of leased buildings and inform tenant agencies if the ownership is foreign.