Office Vacancies at Federal Agencies as High as 75 Percent

Many federal agencies are sitting on underutilized buildings, causing a congressional committee to call into question the need for so much real estate.

2 minute read

October 11, 2023, 11:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Securities and Exchange Commission office in Washington, D.C.

qingwa / Adobe Stock

A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office reveals that 17 out of 24 federal agencies are only using 25 percent of their headquarters buildings’ office space, calling into question the need for the 360 million square feet of office space managed by the General Services Administration. Nish Amarnath reports on the issue for Smart Cities Dive.

Calling the finding ‘alarming,’ Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman Senator Tom Carper (D-Del) said at a hearing that the vacancy is “not a sustainable or fiscally responsible way to manage our federal real estate.”

With more federal workers working remotely, committee members called on the federal government to stop wasting taxpayer funds on empty or underutilized buildings. “Committees have done a lot of legislative work to support policies that will reduce emissions. I would be interested to know the emissions associated with heating and cooling these buildings that are unoccupied,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va).

According to Amarnath, “Capito recommended that federal agencies identify their current and future space needs to help the GSA evaluate lease options or invest appropriately in existing buildings.” With many leases expiring in 2027, agencies could take this opportunity to reevaluate their needs. “David Marroni, acting director of physical infrastructure at the GAO, pointed to the importance of having more consistent benchmarks and targets for measuring and determining space utilization. That involves developing more uniform standards for space measurement and assessing what constitutes full utilization rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach, he said at the hearing.”

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