Federal employees have been returning to the office more regularly in recent months, and agencies are in the process of offloading office space they no longer need.
But the top Republican on the Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee says agencies still aren’t making effective use of their office space.
“If we’re not going to use it, let’s lose it,” Committee Ranking Member Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said in a press conference Tuesday, unveiling a “naughty list” of federal agencies with the lowest occupancy rates.
“While it’s not the Night Before Christmas quite yet, there’s not a creature stirring – not even a mouse – in the halls across this city,” Ernst said.
Data from the Government Accountability Office shows the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Small Business Administration both had a 7% average utilization rate in early 2023 — the lowest rate of all other major agencies.
HUD and SBA officials told GAO their headquarters buildings were undergoing renovation during the data collection period, contributing to a decrease in attendance.
The GAO data shared by Ernst’s office provides a more granular, agency-by-agency look at federal office space utilization. The watchdog, in a preliminary report issued this summer, used aggregated metrics to cluster agencies by their average utilization rate.
“If we’re not going to fill up — we’re not going to go actually work within these agencies — then maybe we need to get rid of this space, because it does cost a lot to rent these buildings in Washington, D.C or own them. So if we’re not going to bring workers back, folks, let’s get rid of this,” Ernst said.
The GAO data shows the estimated three-month average space utilization statistics for the 24 Chief Financial Officer Act agencies for a sample period that includes one-week periods in January, February, and March 2023.
Ernst told Federal News Network that she’ll continue to push federal agencies “to deck the halls with federal workers or sell off unused office space.”
GAO states that utilization rate differs from employee attendance, because a building’s capacity is based on the size of the building — not the number of people assigned to work there.
“All assigned staff could go to a building, and it could still be underutilized if the building has more space than it needs,” GAO wrote
GAO said attendance statistics represent the average daily attendance for the sample period, but that data varied for individual days.
According to GAO, the Office of Personnel Management has indicated information about the relative concentration of federal personnel in any given building may raise security risks for federal personnel.
In recognition of those security concerns, the Defense Department gave GAO data on attendance at the Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia – not the Pentagon. GAO identifies the Mark Center as DoD’s administrative headquarters.
OPM told GAO that additional non-agency staff occupies its headquarters building, and its numbers include those workspaces and attendance.
The federal government’s landlord, the General Services Administration, recently told lawmakers about efforts to expedite the sale and disposal of excess federal office space.
With agencies — including GSA — embracing the benefits of a long-term hybrid and remote workforce, Carnahan said her agency sees an opportunity to reduce the government’s real-estate footprint by up to 30% in the coming years.
Shrinking the federal office space portfolio to that degree, she added, would save the federal government about $60 billion over a decade.
“Right now, agencies across the government are rethinking how much space they actually need. And while GSA doesn’t make space decisions for agencies, we do work closely with them to leverage our team’s expertise to help agencies plan and whenever possible to downsize,” Carnahan told the committee.