The Federal Government Is Shrinking—Literally

The DHS Groundbreaking Ceremony at St. Elizabeths Campus, September 9, 2009 The DHS Groundbreaking Ceremony at St. Elizabeths Campus, September 9, 2009 GSA

The federal government is shrinking—by 10.2 million square feet, to be precise. That’s how much agency office and warehouse space was cut in 2013 under President Obama’s management initiative know as “Freezing the Federal Footprint,” according to the White House.

Beth Cobert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, announced the number on Thursday following an inventory at 24 agencies with chief financial officers that revealed “significant progress toward implementing” the three-year plans to reduce spending that then-Controller Danny Werfel called for in March 2013.

“Through this policy direction and utilizing existing administrative authorities,” Cobert wrote, “agencies are taking significant and creative steps to manage their real estate inventories by freezing growth in the portfolio, measuring the cost and utilization of real property to support more efficient use, and identifying opportunities to reduce the portfolio through asset disposal.”

The effort is part of the administration’s larger plan to reduce agency spending on travel, conferences and motor vehicles, and make government more efficient. The policy requires that agencies offset any new facility acquisitions with a corresponding reduction in square footage. Agency metrics and progress indicators are being posted this month and next on Performance.gov.

The announced aggregate reduction drew praise from Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, who said, “it is critical that the federal government manages its real estate holdings in a way that is practical and cost-effective,” given its status as the country’s largest property owner and energy user. “I commend the administration for its hard work to improve its federal property management. That being said, there is always room for improvement,” he added, citing the current work by the Homeland Security Department and General Services Administration in consolidating DHS’s components on the campus of St. Elizabeths in Southeast Washington.

That project, however, faces troubles after years of delays. A pending House appropriations bill would zero out its funding. 

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