When the Lights Are On but No One’s Home: An Examination of Federal Office Space Utilization
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management.
I want to thank our witnesses for being here today to continue the Subcommittee’s discussion on the state of federal real estate and discuss the eye-opening work that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) just completed.
The Subcommittee held a roundtable on the state of federal real estate in March that highlighted the major challenges with the federal government’s real estate portfolio. The buildings largely are old, falling apart, and underutilized.
Federal real property continues to be on the GAO’s high-risk list and, even before COVID, we had far too much empty space in our portfolio. Unfortunately, the ongoing telework policies have only exacerbated this problem. Here are some basic facts we highlighted in our roundtable:
However, after being briefed by GAO on their latest report — that they will testify on today — I realized just how far off occupancy rates are and how hard space utilization rates are to calculate. I will defer to GAO to report their findings and look forward to further discussion, but I do want to highlight one key finding – a majority of the agencies GAO reviewed used 25 percent or less of their headquarters buildings’ space. Twenty-five percent.
And the taxpayer is paying for the remaining 75 percent of the agencies’ unused space. It’s not as though GSA can just close down, shut off the lights, and mothball the unused space to reduce costs. The taxpayer is quite literally paying to keep the lights on even when no one is home. And, if this trend is any indication of space usage in leased space, we are wasting literally billions of dollars each year.
I have been a firm believer that if agencies aren’t using their space, they should lose it. And let’s be clear – this goes beyond bringing federal employees back to the office, because even pre-COVID, we knew space utilization was an issue.
This Subcommittee, GSA, GAO, and private sector experts have been discussing this for a long time. We need to get a handle on this and push agencies to examine how they are using space.
There must be more accountability for agencies.
I hope we can use the GAO report as a baseline to understand the current challenges so we can pass legislation that will meaningfully help the government right-size its portfolio and either use or get rid of unused space.
Read the GAO report here.