OMB targets further federal office space reductions

Jason Miller, Executive Editor, Federal News Radio

wfedstaff | April 18, 2015 3:43 am

The Office of Management and Budget is putting federal office space and excess property in to a deeper freeze.

Two years after issuing the Freeze the Footprint policy, OMB is expected to issue a follow-on memo Wednesday requiring civilian agencies and the Defense Department to develop a plan to reduce their real property footprints over the next five years.

David Mader, the OMB controller, said the National Strategy for the Efficient Use of Real Property: Reducing the Federal Portfolio through Improved Space Utilization, Consolidation and Disposal has two mandates for agencies: Set an annual square foot reduction target; and Adopt space design standards for future for office space.

“What we learned in two years is that every organization has an unique set of circumstances so what the policy says is we want you to continue to reduce your total real property footprint, but based on the uniqueness of your mission come back to OMB every year to reset the baseline to further reduce real property, which also includes consolidations and disposals of underutilized and excess property,” Mader said in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio.

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Since OMB issued that 2013 memo telling agencies to stop leasing or buying new office space or warehouse space and figure out how to reduce or consolidate it, agencies have made significant progress.

Mader said during fiscal 2013 and 2014, agencies decreased their warehouse space by 21 million square feet as compared to the 2012 baseline.

In 2014 alone, OMB says civilian and DoD agencies got rid of 7,315 buildings, including office space and warehouse space, that equaled 47 million square feet of space. Mader said by getting rid of those buildings, the government saved $17 million in maintenance costs.

“Our sense is that with the results of the Freeze the Footprint, we now are asking them to take a strategic five-year view and our expectation is for them to be able to accomplish more significant reductions,” Mader said. “We are going from freeze it to being more proactive, establishing standards and working with the General Services Administration to consolidate offices and look for innovative ways to shrink overall footprint.”

The policy also counts on DoD to reduce excess space without using the traditional Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) approach.

Mader said like the civilian agencies, the Pentagon will examine its mission needs and come up with a strategy to reduce office space, warehouse space and other real property. He said this effort includes military bases.

“DoD is drawing down its forces overseas and bringing them back to the U.S., so it’s important to capture what their needs are. We may see savings, but they may come from outside of the continental United States,” Mader said. “We do want to emphasize this is a strategic view of how we manage property.”

It’s unclear whether OMB is trying to side-step Congress, which has vehemently denied every DoD request for another round of BRAC over the last five years, or just using existing executive branch powers to give DoD some relief.

The White House also re-proposed in its 2016 budget request the Civilian Property Realignment Act to simplify the process for agencies to get rid of excess property.

Mader said based on some of discussions with several committees in the Senate and the House, there may be some interest in 2015 in moving some legislation forward to let the administration accelerate the disposal of real property.

In the 2016 budget request, the President also asked Congress to let GSA use $200 million from the federal building fund to consolidate and upgrade federal facilities.

In the meantime, GSA is developing a new tool to let agencies make better decisions.

Mader said GSA created the Federal Real Property Profile database several years ago as a static inventory list. But now GSA is using software tools, an updated inventory and benchmarks to help agencies made better decisions for how to dispose of or consolidate office space and other properties.

“The tool will allow a particular agency to look at their own portfolio, work with GSA, which is now taking on broader responsibilities, and see if there are departments who have work together to maybe effectuate a better consolidation effort,” he said.

GSA and OMB have been working on the cross-agency priority goal to develop benchmarks around three areas, including management of real property.

Mader said his long-term goal is to save the government and fix the process by which agencies dispose of real property. He said those two efforts also should get the management of real property off the Government Accountability Office’s High Risk List by 2017 — the next time it issues one.

Mader said OMB is meeting with GAO on March 31 to discuss the Reduce the Footprint effort.

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