The D.C. Mayor Wants ‘Decisive Action’ on the Federal Government’s Return to Office Plans
There has been movement to get some employees back in person and assess real estate needs, but the mayor would like more specifics.
Efforts have been underway for a while now on return-to-office strategies and real estate assessments for the federal workforce, following maximum telework during the initial phases of the coronavirus pandemic. But earlier this week, the mayor of the nation’s capital asked for some more specifics: she said she wants “decisive action” by the federal government on what the future of the federal office will look like, in order to help revitalize the downtown area of Washington, D.C. after the pandemic.
“The federal government represents one-quarter of D.C.’s pre-pandemic jobs and owns or leases one-third of our office space,” said District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, during her swearing in ceremony on Monday. “We need decisive action by the White House to either get most federal workers back to the office, most of the time, or to realign their vast property holdings for use by the local government, by nonprofits, by businesses and by any user willing to revitalize it.”
President Biden proclaimed during his State of the Union address in March that federal employees would be returning to offices, setting an example for the country. There has been guidance from the top, but agencies have been responsible for their own return-to-office policies and any flexibilities they may entail.
Bowser stressed the need to take back D.C.’s downtown, as it is the “economic engine” that lets the capital city invest in schools, the safety net and public works. Currently, 25,000 people live downtown, but Bowser is seeking to add 15,000 residents over the next five years and 87,000 more (to bring the total up to 100,000) ultimately.
Many federal agencies have their headquarters in downtown D.C. In the greater Washington, D.C. area, there were about 365,300 federal employees as of November, according to an online database run by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. That represents roughly 16.8% of the entire federal workforce.
An Office of Management and Budget official previously told Government Executive that “with most agencies having concluded reentry by the end of April and others concluding reentry in the following weeks, the vast majority of federal employees either are or will soon be working at their official worksites and, as appropriate, doing so with updated work arrangements that advance agency missions, including delivery of federal services.”
Regarding the mayor’s remarks, the General Services Administration, the federal government’s landlord, and OMB “are working closely with agencies as they engage in space planning exercises that take into account current and future work environments,” said an OMB official on Tuesday. In July, OMB restarted a process, launched under the Trump administration, for agencies to assess their real property needs, which directs them to consider what their future looks like after the pandemic.
Agencies were required to submit plans for fiscal 2024-2028 to OMB and the Federal Real Property Council by December 16, 2022. Before the pandemic, there has been a years-long process, spanning multiple administrations, to get the federal real estate footprint to an appropriate size.
“We are confident in the strength of this existing governmentwide capital planning process and the existing real property policy framework and believe it will identify appropriate office space portfolio reduction opportunities over time,” the OMB official said. “Appropriations over multiple fiscal years will likely be required to fully implement agencies’ optimal portfolios.”
When asked during the briefing on Tuesday what the president views as the future for the federal workforce in D.C. and what that means for the downtown area, in regard to the mayor’s speech, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration “follow[s] the science and listen[s] to the experts. I just don't have anything to announce today on any changes… as it relates to federal buildings and federal workers.” She reiterated the president’s remarks that the country is in a different place than when the Biden administration took over and touted its accomplishments.