USPS OIG: Postal Service Management of CBRE Real Estate Transactions

Audit Report – SM-AR-15-003 – 04/22/2015

Background

CBRE_negotiated_leasesUnder a June 2011 contract, CBRE Group, Inc. (CBRE) is the sole provider of real estate management services for the U.S. Postal Service. These services include marketing and sale of properties and conducting lease negotiations. In fiscal years 2012 and 2013, CBRE marketed 49 property sales totaling about $118 million and conducted 1,698 lease negotiations.

The U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued two reports on the Postal Service’s contract with CBRE and a third addressing the Postal Service’s historic properties. This report, which considers Postal Service management of CBRE real estate transactions, is the fourth in a series evaluating Postal Service real estate management. Our objective is to assess the Postal Service’s internal controls over CBRE real estate property sales and lease negotiations.

What The OIG Found

The Postal Service could improve its management of CBRE real estate transactions. Management continues to allow CBRE to collect commissions from lessors for lease negotiations in addition to payments from the Postal Service based on performance targets for lease renewals. Management also allows dual agency transactions, enabling CBRE to represent and negotiate for both the Postal Service and buyers or lessors. These actions are inherently risky and create conflicts of interest whereby CBRE may not negotiate property sales and lease transactions in the Postal Service’s best interest or may capture opposing party fees from the Postal Service.

Leases
Lessors in the past often negotiated leases directly with the Postal Service without representation. However, since the start of the CBRE contract, some lessors have told the OIG of having been approached by CBRE agents regarding required payment of a commission to CBRE. In these instances, the lessors expressed that they were told if they did not agree to pay CBRE a commission, CBRE, as the Postal Service’s representative, would find another building and discontinue the lease. This does not provide the Postal Service with best value from such a contractor.

We also received allegations that CBRE announced, rather than negotiated, the Postal Service’s lease rate to lessors. CBRE informed the lessors they could “recover” commission fees from the Postal Service’s increased rents to them. CBRE represented that the fee would, in effect, be paid by the Postal Service. If true, the contractor is causing the Postal Service to pay for CBRE to negotiate against the Postal Service.

cbre_aCBRE made the process for commissions appear to be mandatory despite the fact that the Postal Service had no such requirement. This arrangement allowed CBRE to negotiate with no parties present, representing both the lessor and the Postal Service and being paid by both. Postal Service officials were aware that CBRE increased the rent amount to include commissions and indicated this was an industry standard—even though CBRE’s contract states that the Postal Service will not pay CBRE commissions for negotiating lease transactions, if the lessor refuses to pay them. We analyzed all Postal Service leases expiring between October 2012 and September 2016 and found CBRE collected lessor commissions on 3,405 of the 4,718 leases it renegotiated. These commissions totaled $20.6 million. CBRE can also collect payments from the Postal Service based on performance targets for lease renewals.

cbre_bOf 4,718 leases CBRE negotiated for the Postal Service, the average annual rent increase was $2,792 higher than the prior lease rate. This is more than three times higher than the Postal Service’s average rent increase of $773 for the 11,075 leases that the Postal Service renegotiated without CBRE. As a result, the Postal Service could be overpaying an estimated $9.5 million per year for leases already negotiated by CBRE.

Further, CBRE renegotiated 57 of the 4,718 Postal Service leases at a rate increase of 200 percent or more than the previous lease rate. We referred the 57 CBRE lease transactions and the lessors’ allegations that CBRE is including commission fees in rents paid by the Postal Service to the OIG’s Office of Investigations for further review.

Based on our review of lease negotiations, we found:

  • The Postal Service did not accurately identify CBRE as the lease negotiator in the facilities management system for 1,049 leases, with annual rents totaling about $59 million. Tracking leases CBRE negotiates is essential for properly managing these transactions.
  • For 30 randomly selected lease negotiations that we reviewed, totaling about $4.7 million in annual rents, 26 did not have supporting documentation to capture the proposed lease rate to review against the final negotiated rate. The Postal Service did not require CBRE to record initial offers, which are necessary to ensure the transparency and reasonableness of the negotiated lease amounts. Additionally, documentation for market rent rates and analyses for all 30 were not centrally maintained in the facilities management system.
  • Postal Service employees did not itemize the detailed expenses invoiced by CBRE in the facilities management system for 111 of the 246 payments made to CBRE for later analysis. The 111 payments totaled about $466,000. Itemization is needed to enable management review.

Property Sales
We also found problems with 14 of the 21 sale transactions we reviewed. Specifically:

  • All of the properties were sold within the goal of 90 percent or greater of the appraised values; However, CBRE solicited the appraisals. There were also shortcomings in the appraisal methodology for seven of the 21 properties that could have affected the estimated market values. Postal Service employees did not detect these discrepancies and did not complete checklists, as required, for six of the seven properties to ensure the questionable appraisals were revised.
  • Employees could not locate a file to support the sale of one property for $2 million and did not maintain appraisal reviews to support the sale of two properties totaling about $6.4 million.
  • Eight properties that sold for about $15.9 million were incorrectly coded as “active” (not sold) in the facilities management system.

For five properties, we also found potential relationships between the buyer and CBRE. We referred these transactions to the OIG’s Office of Investigations for further review. Four of the five properties were sold at or above their appraised value, although appraisals for three of the properties were questionable.

Without proper oversight of real estate transactions, the Postal Service is at increased risk of having inaccurate valuation of its marketed and leased properties. Documenting and recording transactions in the Postal Service’s facilities management system is necessary to ensure transparency in the negotiation process and related costs.

Finally, management did not fully implement a prior OIG recommendation to designate contracting officer’s representatives to monitor contract performance and approve payments to CBRE. Between July 1, 2013, when management agreed to implement the prior recommendation, and September 30, 2013, employees not designated as contracting officer’s representatives, authorized 12 payments, totaling about $63,000. Because the contracting officer or a designated contracting officer representative did not approve payment authorizations, there is an increased risk of poor contract oversight, unauthorized expenditures, and contract changes.

What The OIG Recommended

We recommended management terminate and recompete the current real estate services contract. In addition, we recommended management, in the interim, modify the CBRE contract to prohibit CBRE from collecting commissions from opposing parties and prohibit dual agency representation. We also recommended management, in the interim, notify lessors they are not required to pay commissions.

We also recommended management train employees to comply with the requirement to review appraisals independent of CBRE and implement revisions to the appraisal review checklist to ensure it is sufficient to detect technical errors in appraisals.

Further, we recommended that management update record management requirements, implement Postal Service policy that requires employees to consistently enter real estate transactions into the facilities management system, and instruct the contracting officer to ensure the proper certification of payment authorizations.

Source: Office of Inspector General | United States Postal Service

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