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How Decluttering and Downsizing Could Help Agencies Get Off GAO’s High Risk List

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The government has long struggled to effectively manage its real estate. Despite progress in recent years, federal real property management appeared once again on the Government Accountability Office’s latest list of high risk areas, as it has every year since 2003. The sheer size of the federal government’s real estate portfolio—approximately 273,000 buildings that are leased or owned in the United States, costing billions of dollars annually to operate and maintain—requires a new management approach.

Enter the 2016 Federal Assets Sale and Transfer Act. The FAST Act essentially codified policies to freeze or reduce the federal government’s footprint by establishing a Public Buildings Reform Board, tasked with identifying opportunities for the government to significantly reduce its inventory of civilian real property and corresponding costs. Under the new law, which was enacted in December 2016, every agency is required to submit to the General Services Administration and Office of Management and Budget the following:

  • Current data on all federal civilian real properties owned, leased, or controlled by each agency.
  • Recommendations for properties that could be sold, leased out, transferred to another agency, consolidated or redeveloped.
  • Recommendations for ways to more efficiently operate and maintain properties. 

After reviewing these recommendations, OMB will use them to develop standards and submit its own recommendations to the board. A number of factors will play into these final recommendations, including savings achieved by consolidating, co-locating and reconfiguring space; the ability to replicate successes across the enterprise; and reduction of energy consumption. So, where are the most impactful areas of opportunity to consolidate or optimize, without sacrificing efficiency, compliance or access? For many agencies, better records management is a good place to start.

Optimizing Space

Our research shows that up to 60 percent of agency records may be stored onsite, and can occupy anywhere from 5 percent to 30 percent of total office space within the federal government. That adds up to nearly 11.5 million square feet, which costs the government an estimated $250 million per year. Storing more records off site allows agencies to reduce their storage footprint, often at a much lower price per square foot. Additionally, reducing onsite storage allows agencies to use their real property for more mission-oriented activities.

To figure out the best approach to storing records, agencies first need to do the following:

  • Make sure organizational and operational priorities are aligned
  • Determine program requirements
  • Assess cost and program gaps
  • Document the benefits and value of improved records management
  • Align key stakeholders

This process often begins with one individual who can articulate and substantiate the need to improve information management to align with the agency’s mission and strategic priorities. Once agencies have identified that internal champion, it’s important to collaborate with other key players to determine what information is stored within the agency and how it is used to  support agency missions.

It’s critical that FAST Act recommendations accurately portray what the agency’s ideal state looks like and the specific steps needed to reach it. Agencies should create thorough business cases when submitting their final recommendation to OMB and GSA for FAST Act compliance. Recommendations should clearly outline best practices as well as the anticipated footprint reduction, cost savings and efficiency gains.

The FAST Act was intended to address some of the real property issues that have required GAO to include this as a high-risk area since 2003. Looking at offsite storage options, including the development and execution of a formal business plan, will help agencies optimize their real estate assets while implementing an information management program that better supports both their mission and their workplace.

Marisa Banigan is the product manager for government at Iron Mountain.

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