WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, September 27, 2023, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing to examine the U.S. General Services Administration’s efforts to right-size and modernize the federal real estate portfolio.
Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“We are here today to examine the current use of federal office space, affectionately referred to as the ‘federal real estate footprint,’ and to identify opportunities for improving how we manage these assets on behalf of American taxpayers.
“The General Services Administration (GSA) manages more than 363 million square feet spread across nearly 8,400 buildings. That’s the equivalent of 240 U.S. Capitol Buildings. Unfortunately, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found an alarming amount of this space is currently underutilized. According to this report, federal headquarters buildings, on average, have an occupancy rate of only 25 percent.
“Low occupancy is not a new challenge. In fact, the management of federal real property has been a challenge for decades. In 2003, the GAO placed the management of federal buildings on their ‘High Risk List,’ due in large part to underutilized space. This ‘to-do’ list, as I like to call it, calls attention to federal agencies and program areas that are high risk due to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or are most in need of transformation.
“Our late colleague, Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma, was a great partner in our bipartisan efforts on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to improve federal property management practices.
“Still, it’s now 2023, and the management of federal buildings remains on the High Risk List more than 20 years later. To make matters more complicated, the GAO is considering adding the maintenance backlog for federal buildings to that list in 2025.
“It’s clear that underutilization remains a problem, especially as many federal employees continue working remotely following the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as President Biden calls on more federal employees to return to the office, GSA must work with agencies to identify ways to consolidate, co-locate, and dispose of space to meet current and future needs.
“After all, an average federal building capacity of 25 percent is simply a waste of resources. It’s not a sustainable or fiscally responsible way to manage our federal real estate.
“So, we know that GSA faces significant challenges when it comes to modernizing and right-sizing our federal buildings, but as I often say, in adversity lies opportunity. More than half of GSA-managed leases are set to expire by 2027. This is an opportunity for the agency to truly ‘right size’ our federal office space after years of just talking about it.
“We also know that it’s possible to save the federal government — and our taxpayers — money while tackling climate change at the same time. Last Congress, we provided GSA with robust funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act to modernize and right-size buildings in their portfolio. This includes making buildings more energy-efficient and resilient to climate change, as well as promoting the use of low-carbon construction materials. I look forward to hearing more on the implementation of these investments from our witnesses today.
“With that in mind, yesterday, I was able to again visit the Department of Homeland Security’s St. Elizabeth’s campus. This is a project I have been focusing on since my time as Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“The Department of Homeland Security began efforts to consolidate its headquarters in 2005. It has been a long, complicated process. Thanks to a $288 million investment from the Inflation Reduction Act, GSA has been able to finally relocate the headquarters of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, as well as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to the St. Elizabeth’s campus.
“According to GSA, these consolidation efforts are going to reduce the Department’s real estate footprint by over 1.2 million square feet in the National Capital Region — the equivalent of 21 football fields. What’s more, it’s expected to save taxpayers some $1.3 billion over the next thirty years.
“As I said earlier, today’s hearing is an opportunity to think strategically about how we move forward together to support and encourage GSA’s efforts to right-size and modernize the federal workplace.
“It’s going to take a collaborative effort on the part of GSA and each federal agency to determine the amount of office space that the government needs now and into the future, as workforce policies continue to evolve.
“With that, I look forward to hearing testimony on what efforts GSA is already taking to address the challenges of managing the federal real property portfolio, as well as what we can be doing to be better stewards of the federal purse. As I often say, everything that I do, I know I can do better. The same can be said here. We can do better.”