Data at the heart of OMB’s latest office space reduction goals

Jason discusses his article with Federal Drive host Tom Temin.

wfedstaff | April 18, 2015 3:49 am

The Office of Management and Budget now has the data it needs to move agencies from just freezing their office space and real property to reducing it.

Over the last two years since OMB launched its Freeze the Footprint policy, the General Services Administration has led an effort to turn the static Federal Real Property Profile database into a dynamic tool to help agencies make decisions.

“When we launched the new inventory under that executive order, we added new data elements to get us much smarter about inventory management. Things like, what is the utilization rate of each building? What is the condition of each building? What is the cost of each building? What is the mission relevance of each building?” said Danny Werfel, the previous OMB controller who launched the Freeze the Footprint initiative, and now is a director with the Boston Consulting Group.

“You can start to see and define, by looking at that data, what an underperforming asset is—one that is high cost, low utilization and doesn’t have a real connection to mission relevance. You could also see where there might be other agencies that have underutilized buildings that present opportunities for consolidation. It takes time to build that inventory, ensure it’s reliable and ensure the information is up to date. I think we are at that point now where that foundation is laid. Now it’s time to make sure we are really actively moving data into formats that can enable smart, real-time decision making.”

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In the most recent memo, OMB Controller David Mader said each agency will develop and submit a Real Property Efficiency Plan in lieu of a Revised Real Property Cost Savings and Innovation Plan. He said GSA uses the database and analytics tools to identify real property efficiency opportunities.

Agencies must submit a draft five-year strategy to OMB and GSA by July 10, and have it finalized and signed off by their deputy secretary or administrator by Sept. 10.

Werfel said GSA’s experience with its partial renovation of its headquarter’s building in Washington is a perfect example of using data to make better decisions.

Former Administrator Dan Tangherlini measured foot traffic to better understand when employees came and went to see how many desks were occupied at any one time.

Werfel said this approach shows just how mobile feds have become. That is much different today than it was just two years ago when Freeze the Footprint came out.

“Five or 10 years ago, we definitely were not at a Pareto optimal point in terms of leveraging virtual tools to do meetings, to cut down on travel or even enable a telework workforce in certain parts of the agencies,” he said. “The reality is it doesn’t happen overnight where you figure out exactly how to make these new business practices work effectively. It takes time, and organizations grow into these new standard operating procedures around doing meetings and doing things virtually. I think the government has grown up a lot over the last few years and is ready to start to put the learnings that they’ve had into the bottom line of government by reducing the footprint.”

Kenyattah Robinson, a senior vice president for public institutions with Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate management firm, said data is key to making mission and activity-based decisions around space plans.

He said there are three questions any organization has to answer about their real estate needs.

“One of the first things agencies have to do is get a grasp, if they don’t already have it, on what space they have, what spaces are occupied and what spaces are vacant, and where pockets of vacancy may exist that could be eliminated or consolidated,” Robinson said. “Really doing some of that baseline data collection, some of the visual data mapping and looking at supply and demand really is the foundation of any space management plan.”

He said agencies should also perform a gap analysis, and analyze how they would move their staffs as well as order furniture. All of these efforts, however, tend to take a long time to complete.

“One of the great things with what’s happening with the transition from Freeze the Footprint to now reducing space, organizations have had a chance to adapt to this new normal, this new environment,” Robinson said. “They’ve been able to take a strategic look at what their space holdings are across their organizations so now some of these long-lead items hopefully have been accomplished and have been accommodated. They can now look forward to doing some more strategic occupancy planning.”

Jones Lang LaSalle works with several federal clients, including the Veterans Affairs Department to improve space utilization. Robinson said over the past few years VA has taken a more proactive approach to reduce space needs and at the same time save money by doing some of this data analysis work.

But not everyone is convinced that agency data is good enough.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets, said over the years agencies haven’t done a good job reporting data.

He said the new policy may be fine, but agencies really need to do a better job of knowing what they have and disposing of any excess property.

“The first thing is, you have to have a good solid inventory. The second thing, you have to know the age and condition. The third thing you have to know is the current use and best potential use, and the opportunities for consolidation. Fourth, you have to know what’s for sale and disposal, and you have to have the laws to support all of those efforts,” Mica said. “Hopefully, we can get a better law in place. Hopefully, we can get a better inventory, and then some motivation to consolidate, eliminate or dispose of some property.”

To that end, Mica said he will be holding a hearing on agency inventories and real property disposal efforts. He also will be working closely with Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) on a new bill to add some accountability and what Mica called teeth to the law for how agencies dispose of real property.

Mica said he hopes to have the hearing and introduce the bill later this summer.

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