GAO Report Shows Extreme Underutilization of Federal Office Space
At today’s Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee hearing, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report detailing that federal office buildings are extremely underutilized as a result of previously existing challenges and increased remote work.
Specifically, the report revealed that 17 of 24 federal agencies reviewed “used 25 percent or less of their headquarters buildings’ capacity during three weeks in January, February, and March 2023.” GAO identified three main causes for the extremely low rates of office space utilization: underutilization prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, outdated and inefficient building configurations, and the increased telework posture implemented as a result of the pandemic. Excess building space is not a new phenomenon and has been on GAO’s high-risk list since 2003.
The report also noted the financial and environmental costs of underutilized office space: “Federal agencies spend about $2 billion a year to operate and maintain federal office buildings regardless of the buildings’ utilization. In addition, agencies spend about $5 billion annually to lease office buildings. Office buildings also have environmental costs that could be lowered with better utilization. For example, GSA [General Services Administration] officials said that consolidating the agency’s operations in 2020 into the headquarters building it now occupies reduced energy costs by millions of dollars.”
On March 22, 2023, the Subcommittee hosted a roundtable on the “State of Federal Real Estate” during which participants noted that 30 percent of Federal employees plan to retire within the next five years and nearly 30 percent of federal employees with remote work agreements live outside their assigned region. Given these factors, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is developing legislation to help save taxpayer money by directing GSA and other federal agencies to improve utilization, significantly reduce the space they occupy, and dispose of underutilized and unused federal real estate.
On March 30, 2023, the Committee sent 14 letters to GSA’s largest executive branch tenant departments and agencies requesting documents related to utilization rates, telework policies, capital plans and details of any campuses. To date, the Committee has only received five responses, which failed to provide all the documents requested.
Read Subcommittee Chairman Scott Perry’s (R-PA) opening statement here.
Read the full GAO report here.