GSA accelerates plans to offload federal buildings it no longer needs

“GSA and our agency partners will continue to assess space needs and accelerate the disposition of federal buildings that are underperforming, underused, or o...

The General Services Administration is stepping up efforts to offload federal buildings and properties its tenant agencies no longer need.

GSA announced Wednesday it’s putting 23 additional federal properties through its disposition process.

The agency says the next steps include selling, transferring, or exchanging them to another federal agency, or state or local government, or to the public, “after robust input and engagement with stakeholders.”

That’s a much higher volume of properties than what the agency put through this process last fiscal year, and sets a higher bar for what GSA expects to offload in the coming years.

GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan said in a statement the agency is committed to “right-sizing and optimizing the federal buildings portfolio in ways that benefit local communities and taxpayers.”

“GSA and our agency partners will continue to assess space needs and accelerate the disposition of federal buildings that are underperforming, underused, or otherwise don’t use taxpayer dollars effectively,” Carnahan said.

GSA said the properties amount to a potential reduction of 3.5 million square feet from the federal government’s real estate portfolio, and a $1 billion cost avoidance over 10 years.

The Biden administration has faced bipartisan calls from Congress to make better use of federal office space, and get rid of buildings that agencies no longer need.

Many federal employees have been heading back to the office more regularly this fall, or in the coming months, after the Office of Management and Budget directed agencies to increase “meaningful” in-office work.

The Government Accountability Office, in a recent report, found that all 24 of the agency headquarters offices it reviewed had excess space, and that 17 of them had an average occupancy rate of 25%. 

Among the properties, GSA is looking to repurpose the Department of Homeland Security’s former headquarters.

The Nebraska Avenue Complex – located near the American University campus in Northwest Washington, D.C. – has served several missions since the federal government bought the property in 1943.

In World War II, the complex served as the Naval Communications Annex,  which housed intelligence activities, including U.S. efforts to crack Germany’s “Enigma” code for sending encrypted messages.

In 2003, the Nebraska Avenue Complex became the headquarters for the newly created DHS.

DHS has since relocated most of its component agency headquarters to its new St. Elizabeths campus in Southeast D.C.

GSA made its announcement the same day that members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced a slew of bills focused on the federal government selling or making better use of its underutilized office space.

Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) said in a statement that “many of our federal agencies have alarmingly low utilization rates of office space.”

Chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee Scott Perry (R-Pa.) is leading several of the bills.

One of Perry’s bills would extend the termination date of the Public Buildings Reform Board, which is scheduled to sunset in 2025. Congress created the PBRB, under the 2016 Federal Assets Sale and Transfer Act (FASTA), to recommend underutilized federal properties for GSA to sell.

GSA so far has sold 10 out of 12 “high-value” properties the board recommended selling in 2020. PBRB expects to release its next round of recommendations next month.

Another bill, the Utilizing Space Efficiently and Improving Technologies (USE IT) Act, would require GSA and the Office of Management and Budget to take steps to reduce or consolidate space if federal building utilization rates fall below 60%.

A third bill, the Maximizing Office Value and Efficiency (MOVE) Act, would require GSA’s headquarters to achieve a 60% occupancy rate, by consolidating more agencies into its space.

Perry said that “much work remains to be done to ensure taxpayer dollars are not being further wasted on buildings that are no longer being utilized as they were intended.”

GSA said it divested of five properties in fiscal 2023. This year, the agency expects to complete this disposal process for an additional six properties already in the sale-and-disposal pipeline.

The agency over the past decade reduced 12 million square feet of federal office space and cut federal leased space by 18 million square feet.

Since 1987, GSA has transferred over $3 billion in federal properties to new owners.  About one-third of those properties went to state or local governments, or to nonprofits.

Elliot Doomes, commissioner of GSA’s Public Buildings Service, said GSA is engaged in “ongoing dialogue with local communities and thoughtful planning to help ensure we maximize the benefits of new uses and minimize any potential adverse impacts.”

“We look forward to working with our customer agencies and local communities to make the federal buildings portfolio more efficient and effective, while seizing opportunities to advance local development goals,” Doomes said.

GSA is putting the following federal properties through its disposition process:

  • Huntsville Post Office and Courthouse – Huntsville, AL
  • George Howard, Jr. Federal Building and Courthouse – Pine Bluff, AR
  • John F Shea Federal Building – Santa Rosa, CA
  • Frank Hagel Federal Building – Richmond, CA
  • Nebraska Avenue Complex – Washington, DC
  • The Webster School Building – Washington, DC
  • Fort Lauderdale Federal Building and Courthouse – Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • U.S. Customs Warehouse – Hilo, HI
  • William O Lipinski Federal Building – Chicago, IL
  • Captain JF Williams Coast Guard Building – Boston, MA
  • Hastings Keith FB – New Bedford, MA
  • Sammy Davis Federal Building – Overland, MO
  • 8930 Ward Parkway – Kansas City, MO
  • Bridgeton SSA Trust Fund Building – Bridgeton, NJ
  • GSA Motor Pool Site – Santa Fe, NM
  • Howard Street Garage – New York, NY
  • Joel W Solomon Federal Building and Courthouse – Chattanooga, TN
  • E Kefauver Federal Building – Nashville, TN
  • La Branch Federal Building – Houston, TX
  • Pearsall Federal Building and Post Office – Pearsall, TX
  • San Antonio Federal Building West – San Antonio, TX
  • 58 Pearl Street – Burlington, VT
  • Louisa Swain Federal Building – Cheyenne, WY

Former PBS Commissioner Nina Albert told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last month that “right-sizing the federal footprint can be accelerated,” if GSA gains full access to the Federal Buildings Fund, where it deposits rent payments collected from agencies using GSA-owned properties.

Congress since 2011 has diverted about $1 billion each year from the Federal Buildings Fund to cover other agencies’ budgets. Albert said Congress siphoning off these funds has delayed investments in federal buildings, and limited opportunities for agencies to consolidate office space.

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