Teleworking: US government agency urged to share insights into the future of federal offices

By on 12/09/2022 | Updated on 12/09/2022
Image of a modern office space

The US General Services Administration (GSA) has been urged to do more to help agencies of the federal government prepare for post-COVID changes to the federal official estate.

According to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), 19 of 24 agencies surveyed said plan to reduce square footage in their real estate portfolio due to the rise in telework during the pandemic.

However, the GAO found that the GSA, the organisation in charge of federal leases and owned federal spaces with responsibility for 1,500 of the more than 19,500 buildings owned by the US federal government, was not sharing data collected in pilot schemes to assess office space utilisation data it had collected. It was also not sharing information on the costs of collection that could help federal agencies decide on whether they should undertake their own space utilisation exercises.

Read more: Learn the lessons of COVID-19 remote working, says OPM as it publishes fresh guidance on telework

This is despite the GAO report stating that the GSA was “accustomed to sharing information on real property planning with federal agencies through reports, webinars and its agency website”.  Some 13 of the 24 agencies GAO surveyed said such data could be helpful in their planning, though all expressed concerns about the costs of data collection. Consequently, most of the vast majority of them (20 of the 24) said they had collected “limited or no space utilisation data”.

The GAO concluded: “By not planning to more broadly share this information, GSA is missing an opportunity to provide a clear understanding of how the potential costs of collecting such data could be outweighed by the long-term benefits, including potential cost savings from reductions in future annual rent, maintenance, and other operational costs.”

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This is despite the GAO stating that the GSA was “accustomed to sharing information on real property planning with federal agencies through reports, webinars and its agency website”.  Some 13 of the 24 agencies GAO surveyed said such data could be helpful in their planning, though all expressed concerns about the costs of data collection. Consequently, most of the vast majority of them (20 of the 24) said they had collected “limited or no space utilisation data”.

The GAO concluded: “By not planning to more broadly share this information, GSA is missing an opportunity to provide a clear understanding of how the potential costs of collecting such data could be outweighed by the long-term benefits, including potential cost savings from reductions in future annual rent, maintenance, and other operational costs.”

Read more: Biden tells agencies to help restore the integrity of federal watchdogs

Robin Carnahan, a GSA administrator, suggested that in accordance with GAO’s recommendation, GSA would develop a plan to share this insight with agencies.

The plan to reduce office space comes despite president Joe Biden’s State of the Union address in March this year committing to most federal workers “will once again work in person”. Decisions and details around this are made by individual agencies, based on White House guidance.

The GAO’s report has also been timed to coincide with 16 December, the date by which federal agencies must submit their fiscal 2024-2028 capital plans to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Federal Real Property Council.

This follows a memo sent to agencies by Shalanda Young, director of OMB, who advised them to develop plans that maximise the benefits of flexible work models.

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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