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Report: Majority of Federal Office Space in DC is Unused

Did you know that nearly 90% of federal office space in Washington, DC has been vacant since the start of the coronavirus pandemic?

According to a new report from the Public Buildings Reform Board (PBRB), occupancy rates for federal office buildings in DC are roughly one-third of what they were prior to the pandemic. For example, a Department of Agriculture building with space for over 7,000 employees is being utilized by just 456 people and a General Services Administration facility that can accommodate 2,532 employees is being used by just 359.

Occupancy rates for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Labor, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency in DC are even lower, with each agency using less than 10% of available space.

“You are more likely to see a ghost than a bureaucrat at some locations,” jokes Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA). “It’s time to get the ghost employees back to their old haunts and Washington back to work.”

Despite President Joe Biden’s pleas to federal agencies to get at least 50% of their employees back into the office, the reality for many businesses is that operations can be conducted effectively and efficiently (and with reduced costs) even if employees continue to work from home. From the employee perspective, remote work offers less drive time and more time spent with loved ones.

The General Services Administration (GSA), which acts as the primary landlord for the federal government, is actively working with several government agencies to find solutions that benefit communities and taxpayers. The GSA has already announced plans to discard 3.5 million square feet of office space in the District, saving an estimated $1 billion in maintenance over the next decade.

“GSA does not have adequate funding for the maintenance of many federally-owned buildings in the District,” explains PBRB member and real estate lawyer David Winstead. “The reality is that where there’s a building with deferred maintenance that isn’t being utilized, it could be sold and the revenues allocated back to GSA for other real estate needs, instead of taxpayers paying for it.”

These concerns are being discussed in Congress, with lawmakers on both sides calling on federal agencies to tell them exactly how much space they need and figure out a way to sell the space they don’t.

Among the many ripple effects of the shift from office work to remote work has been a sharp decrease in revenue caused by the physical absence of federal employees, who spent a considerable amount of time shopping, dining, and receiving services in the District.

“In the past, the presence of federal workers boosted the District’s economy and made the city recession-proof,” laments Yesim Sayin of the DC Policy Center. “These numbers show that the presence of the federal government is now weighing down the District’s economy as empty buildings displace economic activity that would otherwise be happening downtown.”

To offset the drop in revenue, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser is pushing to increase the sales tax and decrease contributions to social programs including affordable housing grants.

Speaking with a reporter from The Washington Times, a GSA representative mentioned that President Biden’s proposed fiscal budget for 2025 includes $425 million for the GSA to “reconfigure and renovate federal buildings to better utilize space and to expedite the disposition of unneeded federal facilities.”

Though federal employees have always tended to use their office space less frequently than private-sector workers, the proliferation of unused office space is a nationwide concern. Understandably, many have urged local officials and politicians to view this unused space as a solution to the affordable housing crises plaguing many areas of the US.

The PBRB is an independent agency that has been seeking to eliminate/consolidate unused federal space since 2019. Its report on occupancy rates, produced by comparing cell phone activity from 2019 to that of 2023, was sent to the GSA, Congress, and the Office of Management and Budget in March. The Government Accountability Office, which conducted a separate occupancy rates using swipe-card data from individuals entering federal buildings, published similar results.


Nearly 90% of feds’ office space in DC going to waste, government report finds

World & U.S. News