Report: Agencies are throwing away more money on underused property

Number of buildings where space isn’t used effectively is growing, as is the cost of maintaining those buildings, GSA finds.

The federal government is wasting an increasing amount of office space, according to a new report from the General Services Administration.

The number of underutilized federal buildings rose by 1,830 from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2009, jumping from 43,360 to 45,190, the report released on Monday said. Costs of maintaining those buildings also grew, increasing 62 percent or $635.9 million, from about $1 billion in fiscal 2008 to $1.7 billion in fiscal 2009, GSA said. In addition, the government had 10,327 excess buildings in fiscal 2009, compared to 10,140 in fiscal 2008, according to the report.

"The continued maintenance and operation of such underutilized and unneeded assets contributes to the unnecessary spending of taxpayer dollars," the report stated. "By making just a 5 percent cut in fiscal 2009 total annual operating costs of excess buildings reported, the federal government could save $6.69 million in annual operating costs."

The Obama administration has directed agencies to do a better job of managing real estate. In June, President Obama signed a memorandum requiring executive departments and agencies to accelerate their efforts to identify and eliminate excess property, as well as to make better use of remaining real property assets as measured by utilization and occupancy rates, annual operating costs, energy efficiency and sustainability. These endeavors should produce cost savings of at least $3 billion by the end of fiscal 2012, the memo stated.

"The federal government must do nothing less than transform real property asset management," the GSA report concluded. "Agencies must dispose of excess real estate, make more effective use of existing assets, eliminate ineffective lease arrangements and explore innovative approaches to space management and alternative workspace arrangements."

Kathleen Turco, associate administrator of GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy, wrote in an e-mail that GSA was pleased to present the summary and agencies could use the data to measure asset performance.

"Overall, executive agencies have an opportunity to improve real property asset management and address recently identified underutilized and unneeded building assets," she wrote. "Federal agencies are poised to make better use of our assets, including accelerating efforts to eliminate excess properties, reduce energy, water and greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to the elimination of all forms of government waste."