Agency brass reluctant to consolidate and share space: “I guess our agencies may be reluctant to move into another building because it doesn’t have their name across the skyline”

The Government Accountability Office recently submitted a report to congress showing taxpayers are shelling out their hard-earned money to pay for largely empty federal government buildings in the DC swamp:

-The report showed that ALL 24 of 24 agency headquarters buildings are vastly underutilized.

-Most agency headquarters are under 25% capacity. As in 75% empty.

-Several agency headquarters are below 10% capacity. As in 90% empty.

-Taxpayers pay for air conditioning, heating, maintenance and security for agency buildings at a cost of billions per year, while the same agencies lecture Americans about “climate” and the type of stove you have in your home.

-Agency brass is reluctant to share office space because they think it would lower their prestige. Even within agencies, internal turf wars prevent consolidation of office space.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chaired by Rep. Sam Graves (R – Mo.) held a hearing on the matter titled, When the Lights Are On but No One’s Home: An Examination of Federal Office Space Utilization.

In his verbal testimony the Acting Director of Physical Infrastructure for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) David Marroni said:

“We assessed the extent to which 24 agencies used their headquarters buildings in January, February, and March of this year. What we found was that all 24 of those headquarters buildings had extra space. And that most agencies were using less than 25% of their headquarters capacity on average.”

The GAO report stated:

“17 of the 24 federal agencies used on average an estimated 25 percent or less of the capacity of their headquarters buildings.”

In an interview with Federal News Network, Marroni said:

“Most were using 25% or less of their capacity. So that’s a pretty low utilization. But even on the range, if you’re looking at all 24, it went from about 10% utilization to about 50%. So it’s really a government wide issue here.”

Office space utilization rankings

The GAO report organized the results of the 24 agency headquarters buildings into four quartiles – six in each quartile. (NOTE: GAO did NOT provide an itemized list of percentages for each agency. Instead they simply organized them into quartiles.)

In Quartile 1, the group of six agencies use an average of only NINE PERCENT of their headquarters office space:

Department of Agriculture

Department of Housing and Urban Development

General Services Administration

Office of Personnel Management

Small Business Administration

Social Security Administration

In Quartile 2, the group of six agencies use an average of only SIXTEEN PERCENT of their office space:

Department of Education

Department of Transportation

Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Environmental Protection Agency

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

National Science Foundation

In Quartile 3, the group of six agencies use an average of only TWENTY-THREE PERCENT of their office space:

Department of Defense (Mark Center)

Department of Energy

Department of Health and Human Services

Department of the Interior

Department of Labor

U.S. Agency for International Development

In Quartile 4, the group of six agencies use an average of only THIRTY-FIVE PERCENT of their office space:

Department of Commerce

Department of Homeland Security

Department of Justice

Department of State

Department of the Treasury

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The federal government owns 511 million square feet of office space

From the GAO written report:

“The federal government owns 511 million square feet of office space, costing billions

annually to operate and maintain.”

GAO says the problem likely exists at federal buildings nationwide

In the Federal News Network interview, Marroni said the problem likely exists in federal buildings across the country:

“What I would say is if their office spaces are performing similar functions, policy, administrative, it would likely be they have similar utilization rates.”

Agencies don’t want to share office space due to concerns about prestige

In the Federal News Network interview, Marroni said:

“I guess our agencies may be reluctant to move into another building because it doesn’t have their name across the skyline like the Federal Trade Commission building.”

Marroni added:

“And that is one of the challenges that officials identified is a sense of cultural reticence to giving up your own headquarters space or even within departments, bureaus, giving up their own controlled space. But it’s something that agencies should consider if it’s going to make it more efficient.”

Most officials ranked reluctance to share office space with other agencies as a major concern. The GAO report said, “most listed it as a challenge.”

One concern is that sharing office space “could lower their perceived standing as a cabinet-level agency.”

Bureaucrats also do not want to share office space even within their own agencies

The GAO report stated:

“Some agency officials said that individual bureau leadership protected spaces assigned to them, including offices, conference rooms, and specialized spaces like secure rooms. They said no current mechanism exists to share those spaces more broadly throughout their agencies.”

It is expensive to maintain empty federal buildings

In the Federal News Network interview, Marroni said it:

“takes a lot of energy to heat cool and light these buildings and those operations are going to continue again, whether someone’s at their desk or not.”

As noted in the GAO report:

“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. Any reduction in office space could reduce these costs.”

Empty federal buildings are a longstanding problem

As noted in the GAO report:

“At a meeting of the FRPC in January 2023, more than half of the agency officials in attendance acknowledged that their headquarters buildings had excess space prior to the pandemic. For example, we calculated for one of the headquarters in the lowest use quartile that if all assigned staff entered the building on a single day, it would still only use 67 percent of the building’s capacity based on its usable square feet.”

Bureaucrats are still “working from home”

As noted in the GAO report:

“Agencies have embraced hybrid work. All 24 agencies said that their in-office workforce has not returned to pre-pandemic levels due to increased use of telework and remote work. Some agencies said that workplace flexibilities, such as episodic telework and remote work, existed before the pandemic but are used much more frequently now.”

Many federal building leases will expire soon — agencies should consolidate now

As noted in the GAO report:

“As of April 2023, more than half of GSA’s leases (4,108 out of 7,685), which account for more than 83 million square feet of space, have expiration dates scheduled for calendar years 2023 to 2027.”

In an interview with Insider, Marroni said:

“All 24 agencies had extra space and need to take a hard look at what space they’ll need going forward and then move in that direction quickly.”

Empty federal buildings also hurt local communities

As noted in the GAO report:

“Underutilized federal office space involves opportunity costs—the loss of potential gain from alternative uses of the resources involved—to both the federal government and the local economy. The federal government could apply resources for an unneeded building to other priorities, such as reducing the deferred maintenance on remaining buildings. In the local economy, unneeded federal properties and land could be put to productive use. For example, the private sector successfully converted an unneeded post office in Washington, D.C., into a hotel. Selling a federal building to the private sector increases the local tax base, as federal buildings are generally exempt from local taxes.”