By Jonathan O'Connell
John Mica has spent six years pursuing a mission on behalf of what he calls a "weakness" he has for art: Acquiring the 74-year-old Apex Building to provide expansion space for the National Gallery of Art.
The Republican representative from Florida was in a sterling position to acquire the building when he chaired the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees the government's landlord, the General Services Administration.
He has done all he can to wrest the building, at 600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, from the Federal Trade Commission by writing legislation mandating the move, haranguing officials at hearings and proposing other locations where the FTC could be relocated.
But Mica failed to oust the FTC from the home it has occupied since 1938, and the congressman was forced to relinquish the influential chairman post this month because of term limits. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is the new chairman.
Mica knows that his mission will be harder given the transition, but he said last week he is not deterred. "I haven't given up. I just have to look at different ways of doing it," he said.
Mica's argument, despite opposition from the FTC , is that the agency ought to be consolidated elsewhere and the Apex Building would make an ideal location for the National Gallery to grow. The building would provide another 300,000 square feet and would expand the museum from two buildings to three. A tunnel underneath Pennsylvania Avenue would connect the locations, and Mica says that donors would put up the $150 million to $200 million needed to prepare the building for the museum.
The GSA has repeatedly said, however, that moving the headquarters out of the Apex Building does not make operational or financial sense, and acting administrator Dan Tangherlini reaffirmed that point in a letter to Mica last summer. But Mica said he will use his new position, as chairman of the House subcommittee on government operations, to continue his pursuit.
"I can assure you that I will be on GSA's case and FTC's case like they have never seen before, because this is the kind of wasteful action by government that is appalling," he said. "This has the potential for saving huge amounts of money."