Federal real property: GSA could further support agency post-pandemic planning for office space utilization

What the GAO found

Federal agencies reported making limited initial changes to leased and owned office space due to the pandemic, but many reported plans to reduce space in the future. Specifically, from March 2020 to March 2022, 17 of the 24 major federal agencies surveyed by GAO reported that the pandemic had resulted in limited reductions in office space due, in part, to uncertainty about how employees will work in the future. However, over the next 3 years, most agencies have indicated that they plan to reduce the number of leases or square feet in their real estate portfolio, primarily in response to increased telecommuting.

The General Services Administration (GSA) has taken some steps to support federal office space planning in the post-pandemic environment. In response to the pandemic, the GSA has supported federal agencies by expanding ongoing office space planning services and collecting new data. These data collection efforts include:

  • pilot test technologies to collect data on the use of space – the number of employees in the buildings on a daily or hourly basis (see the figure below), and
  • collection of additional space usage data in properties leased by the GSA and owned by the federal government.

However, the GSA does not intend to widely share the information it collects through pilot programs and data collection efforts, and such sharing could help agencies better understand their future spatial needs.

While many agencies – 13 of the 24 GAOs surveyed – agreed that this data could be useful in their planning, all 24 agencies expressed concerns, particularly about the costs of collecting the data. As a result, most of these organizations (20 out of 24) reported collecting little or no data on space use. GSA officials said they do not intend to disseminate information about the costs and benefits of space usage data gleaned from their efforts beyond the agencies that use GSA’s services. GSA spatial planning. By not planning to share this information more widely, the GSA is missing an opportunity to provide a clear understanding of how the potential costs of collecting this data could be outweighed by the long-term benefits, including potential cost savings. costs resulting from the reduction of future annual rent, maintenance and other operating costs.

Selected types of technologies that can provide space usage data

Why GAO Did This Study

When the national COVID-19 emergency was announced in March 2020, federal agencies adopted a maximum telecommuting posture, leaving many federal facilities (leased and owned) underutilized. Although future space requirements are uncertain, many, including the GSA, expect federal agencies to require less office space.

The CARES Act includes a provision for the GAO to report on the federal response to the pandemic. The GAO has also been asked to report on federal agency real estate plans during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines changes made by agencies to office space in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and planned changes to be made over the next 3 years, and assesses how the GSA has supported space planning federal offices after the pandemic.

GAO surveyed the 24 CFO Act agencies about the effects of COVID-19 on current and future office space plans and space utilization data. The GAO also reviewed relevant laws, guidelines, and GSA rental inventory data, and interviewed agency officials.