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Federal infrastructure planning is at an inflection point. Most agencies are returning to their offices, but the general consensus is that the workplace won’t be the same as it was before the pandemic. The federal government is entering the age of the hybrid workforce. While this change may concern some agency heads, it presents unique opportunities across federal spaces. The transition will accelerate progress under longstanding “Reduce the Footprint”...
This content is provided by Gordian.
Federal infrastructure planning is at an inflection point. Most agencies are returning to their offices, but the general consensus is that the workplace won’t be the same as it was before the pandemic. The federal government is entering the age of the hybrid workforce. While this change may concern some agency heads, it presents unique opportunities across federal spaces. The transition will accelerate progress under longstanding “Reduce the Footprint” mandates aimed at right-sizing the federal real property portfolio. It will also introduce dynamic space and safety requirements to reconfigure existing buildings for a safer and more effective working environment.
Reducing the number of employees in the office full time through a hybrid workforce dynamic could mean major cost savings for federal agencies during a time when infrastructure and building maintenance is reaching a crisis point. More than half of the federal buildings in the General Services Administration’s portfolio are over 50 years old, and more than a quarter of them are over 75 years old.
Bryan Walter, Vice President and General Manager for Federal Solutions at Gordian, sees this as an opportunity for federal agencies.
“The government has an unprecedented opportunity to evaluate its facilities standards, assess existing facilities against those standards, and plan for the future of federal facilities infrastructure … They really have an opportunity to save a lot of money on leases, on infrastructure, while also creating environments to help their employees feel safer coming to work, which I think at the end of the day is what we all want, what we as taxpayers want to see,” he said. “Let’s use our space efficiently, and let’s have people be able to come to that space and feel safe and productive.”
GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan told members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Nov. 2 that 40% of its leases will expire over the next four years, giving GSA a window to shift tenant agencies to properties the government owns. Carnahan said agencies could save $2 billion annually if they take advantage of this opportunity. However, GSA also has a $9.5 billion backlog of maintenance projects at federal buildings.
To help solve this, Walter said strategic capital planning can help agencies better understand the maintenance lifecycle of their buildings and avoid having buildings grouped together on similar maintenance lifecycles. This can cause spikes in the facilities budgets, unless agencies understand how to optimize maintenance plans.
One challenge in doing so is that organizations are not always optimally aligned: The employees doing the estimating may not be in the same organization as the employees doing the planning or those overseeing construction. For example, say one facility has a scheduled roof replacement and another an HVAC system that needs to be replaced. There may be budget for only one of the two. In such a case, you need a facilities assessment capability to determine which maintenance to defer, a planning capability to understand the impact on the building’s long-term maintenance schedule, and reliable facilities cost estimating data to determine the cost.
“It can become complicated very quickly if you’re not looking holistically across your portfolio of buildings,” Walter said. “Oftentimes, agencies are not organized to operate across the ‘assess, plan, estimate, build, maintain’ lifecycle. And if they are, it’s still a really hard problem, and they need help. Further complicating the matter is that the facilities workforce is not necessarily the largest or the most well-funded. So they’re going to have to do more with less.”
That’s where Gordian comes in. They have tools and data to support the entire building lifecycle, starting with facility condition assessments designed to understand the current conditions of facilities to allow for better prioritization of budgets. With assessment data, Gordian’s strategic capital planning tools help agencies plan to maintain buildings on budget throughout their lifecycle, in alignment with organizational priorities. Gordian also provides the most comprehensive database for construction cost estimating data, RSMeans, with over 85,000 line items specific to 970 locations. This allows agencies to effectively estimate costs associated with their plans and has features such as predictive technologies to take into account future cost changes to help generate a reliable long-term facilities plan.
Once that plan is in place, Gordian’s Job Order Contracting (JOC) solution can make it easier to manage the construction contracts to implement the plan.
“We give you the controls, the workflow, the functionality, to manage a best-in-class JOC program all in one place,” Walter said. “It allows you to efficiently scope, estimate and execute your projects, and use this integrated technology to collaborate on project tasks and construction progress and make sure that everything’s getting done according to the plan.”
The first step, Walter said, for agencies planning to support a hybrid workforce and trying to figure out what those new requirements will be is to talk to their employees directly. Find out what their concerns and comfort levels are. Once agencies have an idea of how many employees will be in the office at any given time, then they need to consider safety and organizational changes. Are upgrades to HVAC systems and air filters needed? Do office plans need to be rearranged to enable better social distancing? If so, how much space is actually required? An office at 50% capacity post-pandemic may require the same square footage as 70% capacity pre-pandemic after rearranging.
In other words, agencies will need new standards and guidelines moving forward regarding how office space will be used. Once those standards are in place, agencies can reconsider the construction lifecycle, from assessment to planning, estimating, and finally construction and operation.
“So I think the first step is really a clear set of guidelines. And that’s not always easy, particularly in the federal government, where you’ve got to work through the policy and bureaucracy of it. But that’s going to be really important,” Walter said. “And I think it will be valuable to everyone involved, because at the end of the day, employees will know what to expect. And if they know what to expect, they can assess their comfort level with performing their job.”