Federal agencies are using only a quarter of their available office space due to the growing number of government workers working from home, a federal watchdog revealed Thursday.
The Government Accountability Office cited remote work as a reason for the massive underutilization of office space it found in its investigation of 24 federal agencies. All agencies reviewed reported that their in-office workforce does not meet pre-pandemic levels, and not a single one utilizes more than 49 percent of the space it uses taxpayer money to rent and buy.
Some agencies reported usage as low as 9 percent, Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.) revealed in a Thursday hearing on the report.
"Low building utilization has significant costs, both to the government and to the American taxpayer," said David Marroni, acting director of the Government Accountability Office’s physical infrastructure team. "Every dollar an agency spends on unneeded space is a dollar that can’t be used for other priorities."
Government agencies embraced remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, with no safeguards in place to ensure employees were working. Many agencies reported having no mechanism for checking whether their remote employees were working, and a quarter of federal health employees did not check their emails.
The Biden administration has encouraged remote work as a "major opportunity" to advance its climate agenda. In January, several federal agencies released a plan that claimed the COVID-19 pandemic "highlighted major opportunities" to reduce carbon emissions and energy usage through "remote work and virtual interactions."
Perry revealed in the hearing that the General Services Administration, which manages office space for the federal government, was "leading the charge," with its headquarters having one of the lowest office utilization rates.
Nina Albert, commissioner of the GSA’s Public Buildings Service, said at the hearing that she couldn’t tell the congressmen how many employees in her division were working in person.
Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R., Wis.) said her inability to answer the question was "completely unacceptable" and called her testimony "a pile of gobbledygook."
"I’m a retired Navy SEAL," he said, "I knew where all my people were at all times, and I managed folks in three different combat zones simultaneously, and I could tell you within a ten-meter square where they were at—in combat. And you can’t tell me where administrative personnel are located in the country, and we’re giving you how much money?"
"If this was a private portfolio, at some point, we’d just close the doors and have to forgo those buildings," said Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R., Ore.).
She added that she felt requests for more funding were effectively saying "we want more money to waste money."