Portman’s Secure Federal LEASES Act becomes law

The president on Dec. 31, 2020 signed into law a bipartisan bill co-authored by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) that protects national security by requiring the federal government to determine if office space it leases is owned by foreign entities.

“I applaud President Trump for signing into law this important legislation to help ensure our federal agencies are prepared to address the risk of espionage and unauthorized cyber and physical access to federally leased buildings,” Sen. Portman said on Monday. “This bill, now law, will ensure that the federal government has access to leased properties’ ownership information so we can better protect our people and information.”

Sen. Portman in June 2019 cosponsored the Secure Federal Leases from Espionage And Suspicious Entanglements Act, S. 1869, also known as the Secure Federal LEASEs Act, with bill sponsor U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI). The senators will lead the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the 117th Congress. 

The measure addresses a Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that several federal agencies were leasing high-security office space in foreign-owned properties. While many of the foreign owners identified in the GAO report were companies based in allied countries, other properties were owned and managed by more adversarial nations, such as China. The GAO report highlighted the dangers posed by these properties, indicating that “leasing space in foreign-owned buildings could present security risks such as espionage, unauthorized cyber and physical access to the facilities, and sabotage.”

The legislation instructs the General Services Administration (GSA) — or any federal agency other than the U.S. Department of Defense and the intelligence community that has independent statutory leasing authority — to identify the immediate or highest-level owner of a space and disclose whether that owner is a foreign person or entity before entering into a lease agreement or approving a novation agreement with an entity involving a change of ownership under a lease that will be used for high-security leased space, according to the congressional record bill summary.

Additionally, the GSA must develop a government-wide plan for identifying all immediate, highest-level, or beneficial owners of high-security leased spaces before entering into a lease agreement to accommodate a federal tenant, the summary says.