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OMB Ratchets Up Pressure on Agencies to Reduce Office Space

New national strategy goes beyond “Freeze the Footprint” effort.

U.S. Controller David Mader on Wednesday announced an acceleration of the Obama administration’s effort to sell off excess or underused federal real estate, outlining a new national strategy that goes beyond demands that agencies “freeze the footprint” by asking them to actually reduce it.

In an Office of Management and Budget blog post, Mader pronounced the policy launched in 2013 “a success,” saying agencies by this year had reduced federal office and warehouse space by 21.4 million square feet, disposed of 7,350 buildings representing 47 million square feet of space, and eliminated $17 million in annual operation and maintenance costs under Freeze the Footprint.

The newly released National Strategy for Real Property and accompanying “Reduce the Footprint” policy memo requires lowering costs through freezing growth in property inventory, measuring agency performance using data on identification of opportunities to cut back and new emphasis on plans to “consolidate, co-locate, and dispose of properties.”

“Consolidating properties and co-locating agency office space is not only commonsense, but will provide more convenient access to the public and allow for upgraded facilities to provide more modern work environments for federal employees to conduct their business,” Mader wrote.

The new policy further requires agencies to set annual square footage reduction targets for domestic buildings and adopt design standards to optimize federal domestic office space usage.

In building on the previous freeze efforts, OMB has partnered with the General Services Administration  and the Federal Real Property Council to “implement new and enhanced analytical tools within the Federal Real Property Profile database that support data-driven decision-making,” Mader said. “These new tools will provide detailed data on properties’ annual cost, location, size and lease expiration, among other data elements, in a structured format that fully supports agency management’s ability to identify efficiency opportunities and to use data to prioritize and implement them. When fully implemented in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2015, the system will provide agencies with greater management capability to seize the efficiency and cost opportunities that their portfolios present over the next five years.”

Congress for years has held hearings and pressed for faster disposal of unneeded properties. President Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget seeks $200 million in Federal Building Fund money to help GSA consolidate property through “smart investments” in federal facilities. The budget also reiterated the administration’s past proposal that Congress create a private Civilian Property Realignment board to nominate batches of property that should be sold off or configured.

Similar legislation to create such a board passed the House in 2012, but never cleared the Senate. In a sign of continuing tensions over approaches to the issue, House Republicans last year threatened to subpoena the White House for property ownership data.

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