GAO rejects city's appeal of HCFA site Ruling backs Woodlawn location


The fight over where to put the new home of the Health Care Financing Administration apparently ended yesterday, as the General Accounting Office said it had rejected appeals by city developers to overturn a decision to keep the HCFA's headquarters in Woodlawn.

"We found no legal basis to object to the selection of the Baltimore County site," said Richard Burkard, an attorney for the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress that ruled on the appeal.

After the U.S. General Services Administration chose Woodlawn last summer for the HCFA's new building, developers who had proposed a site just north of Oriole Park at Camden Yards appealed to the GAO.

The GAO decision, made Thursday and announced yesterday, could clear the way for preconstruction work to begin within two weeks on the $122 million complex, said GSA spokesman John Thompson. The GSA manages federal real estate requirements.

The new headquarters -- at a site just beyond the current dead end of Security Boulevard -- will be built by a joint venture of Boston Properties of Boston and James F. Knott Development Corp. of Towson. The developer for the city site was Inner Harbor West Joint Venture, a partnership of the Rouse Co. of Columbia, Whiting Turner Contracting Co. and the Henson Co. of Baltimore.

Barring further appeals or other delays, the HCFA's staff will move from nine aging Woodlawn-area buildings into the new complex in 1995. The HCFA, the agency that runs the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs, was hotly sought by both city and county officials because it is projected to employ 3,300 people by 1995.

Inner Harbor West contended in its appeal that the GSA did not follow its own selection criteria and that the GSA's analysis exaggerated the price difference between the two plans, which GSA put at $16 million.

Mr. Burkard said the GAO's review concluded that the GSA's decision was reasonably based on the criteria, which included the quality of each proposed building, the experience of the development teams, the impact on employees of each site and the "headquarters identity" that each building would project.

Inner Harbor West has 10 working days to ask the GAO to reconsider its decision, Mr. Burkard said, or it can appeal the decision in federal court. A Rouse spokeswoman, Cathy Lickteig, could not comment yesterday. "Officially, we don't even have the document," she said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has asked President Clinton to review the GSA's decision on policy grounds, which are different from the legal issues on which the GAO ruled, said a mayoral spokesman, Clinton Coleman. But the president has not yet appointed key GSA officials who would have the authority to reverse the decision and move the HCFA downtown.

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