Congress Seeks to Include Legislative Language in Spending Bills Addressing Federal Workers' Return to Offices
House and Senate lawmakers are looking to change current federal workforce telework policies by including language in annual spending bills under consideration by Congress. Yesterday, a House Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee held a hearing on “Oversight of Federal Agencies’ Post-Pandemic Telework Policies” and efforts to mandate federal workers return to their offices. (BGov, Sept. 14)
The Real Estate Roundtable has urged President Biden and national policymakers for months to end government policies that encourage remote working arrangements for federal employees. (RER letter to President Biden, Dec. 12, 2022)
The White House directed Cabinet officials on Aug. 4 to increase the return of federal employees to their offices this fall as a “critical” part of fulfilling the mission of government agencies. (Government Executive, Aug. 7 | Axios, Aug. 4
In the House, Republicans inserted language into the Financial Services-General Government spending bill (H.R. 4664) that would defund any agency that does not return to 2019 telework practices.
The House bill states, “Within 30 days of enactment of this Act, the Committee requires Federal agencies to reinstate and apply their pre-pandemic telework policies, practices, and levels in effect as of December 31, 2019, or they cannot obligate or expend funding for fiscal year 2024.”
The Senate’s Appropriations bill for FY 2024 (S. 2309) is far more flexible, requiring agencies to only “examine how policies for in-person work, telework, and remote work impact agency productivity and performance as well as how effectively and efficiently agencies are able to carry out their missions and serve the public.” (Government Executive, Sept. 5 and FedWeek, July 18)
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) is seeking to add an amendment to federal spending bills that would force agencies to provide details on the cost of telework. “You have bureaucrats that are doing bubble baths during their conference calls for work. So you federal employees that are out there, we’re coming after you,” Ernst said recently. (BGov, Sept. 14)
Today Real Estate Roundtable Chairman Emeritus Bill Rudin (Co-Chairman and CEO, Rudin Management Co.) discussed the return-to-office trend in New York City, the challenge of property conversions, the need to increase the housing supply, and other issues facing CRE on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street.
Marcus & Millichap President and CEO, Hessam Nadji and former Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, will lead the live webcast discussion on the economic factors, including Federal Reserve policy, impacting the commercial real estate market. DeBoer, Tom McGee, President and CEO of ICSC and Sharon Wilson Géno, President of NMHC will join the conversation as CRE industry leaders. (Register here)
Energy And Climate Policy
CRE Coalition Asks EPA to Help Standardize Conflicting State, Local Building Emissions Laws
The Real Estate Roundtable and industry partners encouraged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Sept. 14 to enhance its set of effective, standardized, and voluntary federal tools that can assist real estate companies meet climate targets imposed by city and state laws. (Real estate coalition letter, Sept. 14)
EPA Standards to Quantify Emissions
The coalition endorsed EPA’s planned improvements to its free, online Portfolio Manager benchmarking tool, announced in an ENERGY STAR July 2023 policy brief. Nearly 25% of U.S. CRE space measures energy and water use, waste disposal, and GHG emissions using Portfolio Manager.
Without EPA’s voluntary resources to support uniform emissions measurement, compliance with local mandates is “exceedingly difficult, impracticable, and in some cases, impossible,” the letter states.
“We value greatly our longstanding collaboration with the US-EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. It is the gold standard of resources which help our industry report on energy efficiency and the financial impacts from the increase of renewable energy supplies,” said Roundtable Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee Chair, Tony Malkin (Chairman, President, and CEO, Empire State Realty Trust), below.
Malkin added, “Non-binding federal guidelines from the EPA’s strong and best-in-class analytical frameworks are the North Star through which local governments can inform their law-making, and this helps to bring some sense and order to the otherwise conflicting patchwork of climate laws and frameworks developed by states, cities, and NGOs. The future is hard facts and data, and our industry is fortunate to have a constructive and productive relationship with the EPA that focuses on points on the board, the how to address the what.”
The American Hotel & Lodging Association; Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International; CRE Finance Council; ICSC; Mortgage Bankers Association; NAIOP, Commercial Real Estate Development Association; and Nareit® joined The Roundtable on the coalition letter.
Anticipated SEC Climate Rules
The Roundtable’s call for uniform methods to calculate and report emissions anticipates overdue rules this fall from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC’s rules are expected to compel registered companies to disclose in investor filings material financial impacts related to climate change. (See Roundtable Weekly, June 10, 2022 and RER comments).
The Biden administration’s emphasis on climate policy will continue this fall, when it is expected to propose a uniform federal definition on the long-term concept of “zero emissions buildings.” The Roundtable’s SPAC will convene a working group to analyze the definition upon its release for public comments.
Capital and Credit
Roundtable and Business Coalition Urge SEC to Withdraw Proposed Safeguarding Advisory Client Rule
The Roundtable and a diverse group of 25 trade associations this week wrote to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler to oppose a proposed Safeguarding Advisory Client Rule—in its current form—and explain the negative impacts it would have on investors, including their access to various services, assets, and markets with well-established rules and procedures. (Coalition letter, Sept. 12)
Inconsistent and Duplicative
The coalition letter notes how the proposal creates requirements that are inconsistent with certain recent or preexisting Commission requirements—and duplicative of, existing safeguards enforced by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), federal banking agencies, and state insurance regulators.
The letter emphasizes that substantial, material flaws in core elements of the proposal require changes that would make the proposal no longer meaningful in its current form. The letter states, “Should the Commission decide to make such changes and move forward with rulemaking, we strongly recommend withdrawing and re-proposing the [Safeguarding Advisory Client Rule].”
The Commission acknowledged this fact on August 23, 2023, when it re-opened the comment period on the proposal to give the public 60 days to provide additional feedback in light of separate final rules adopted by the SEC regarding the regulation of private fund advisers. (SEC news release, proposed rule, fact sheet, and comments received)
The proposal’s range of new custodial requirements would create significant operational and practical challenges to the custody of real estate, even though these assets cannot be misappropriated and are easily tracked by deeds and mortgages recorded by municipalities. These challenges would materially inhibit adviser clients’ access to investment strategies relating to real estate, compounding the pressures that high interest rates and vacancies are placing on commercial and residential markets.
During a Senate Banking Committee hearing this week, Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-SC), above, questioned Gensler about the proposal. Sen. Scott noted in his opening statement that the SEC has put forward 47 proposals and adopted 22 of them in the first several months of Gensler’s leadership, not allowing a reasonable amount of time for the public to provide input on proposed rules and for the widespread impact and confuse on created by agency’s proposed rules.
During Q&A with Gensler, Sen. Scott stated “…your proposed revisions to the current rules for safeguarding are so overreaching, you've placed your fellow regulators at the CFTC, the Fed and Treasury between a rock and a hard place. These proposals and rule makings will have a tremendous effect on our capital market system. Yet under your leadership, the SEC has failed to conduct thorough cost benefit analysis, much less look at the overall impacts of these proposal and has limited the time the public can have—the time to analyze and then comment on these rules and the proposals.” (CQ transcripts)
The Roundtable’s Real Estate Capital Policy Advisory Committee (RECPAC) established a Custody Rule Working Group, which is working on comments about the SEC proposal that are due October 30. The working group also plans to meet with the SEC’s Division of Investment Management.
Roundtable and Broad Coalition Support Legislation to Delay CTA Reporting Requirements
The Roundtable and a broad coalition representing millions of businesses throughout the country wrote to House Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry (R-NC), above, this week in strong support of his legislation—the Protecting Small Business Information Act of 2023 (H.R. 4035). McHenry’s bill would delay the date when the Corporate Transparency Act’s (CTA) beneficial ownership reporting requirements go into effect, currently scheduled for Jan. 1, 2024. (Coalition letter, Sept 12 and McHenry news release, June 12)
There is significant concern about the CTA's far-reaching scope and its impact on many commercial residential real estate businesses that use the LLC structure for conducting business. The coalition’s letter states that Chairman McHenry’s bill “legislation offers a commonsense solution to this pending regulatory trainwreck.”
The CTA amended the Bank Secrecy Act to require corporations, limited liability companies, and similar entities to report certain information about “beneficial owners” who own at least 25% of an entity or indirectly exercise “substantial control” over it.
The CTA authorizes the Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to collect and disclose beneficial ownership information to authorized government authorities and financial institutions, subject to effective safeguards and controls. The statute requires the submission of regular reports to the federal government that include a litany of sensitive personal identifiers of the owners, senior employees, and/or advisors of covered entities.
CTA Rule Burdens
The coalition notes that the rule will cover over 32 million existing entities and an additional 5 million newly-created entities every year. These companies and other legal entities could be subjected to increased paperwork, privacy risks, and potentially devastating fines and prison terms.
The CTA also applies only to businesses with under $5 million in annual revenues and fewer than 20 employees, thus ensuring that the very companies who can least afford the costs associated with compliance are the ones targeted.
Additionally, the coalition emphasizes that despite a looming effective date of January 1, 2023, FinCEN regulators have not finalized the “Access Rule,” which specifies who can access the database and for what purposes, nor an updated “Customer Due Diligence Rule” that applies to financial institutions. Regulators have not laid out a clear plan for engaging millions of affected businesses to convey upcoming responsibilities.
In April, bipartisan groups of House and Senate policymakers urged FinCEN to amend the proposed beneficial ownership reporting and access rules, contending certain provisions do not follow congressional intent. (Reuters, April 5)
Rep. McHenry, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and a bipartisan, bicameral group of congressional lawmakers requested that FinCEN amend the proposed beneficial ownership rule to adhere to congressional intent and ensure reporting companies cannot avoid transparency. (Congressional letter, April 3)