Struggles With Air Quality in Federal Offices Put Occupants At Risk of COVID Exposure
Leadership at the General Services Administration agreed with recommendations to address the issues from its watchdog.
The federal government’s landlord has struggled to maintain air quality standards in its buildings thus putting occupants at risk for exposure to COVID-19, a report said on Monday.
Ventilation in buildings owned by the General Services Administration is subject to various industry standards and federal guidance, such as from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Between November 2021 and November 2022, the agency’s watchdog conducted an audit of how a “judgmental sample” of 20 of GSA’s 1,477 owned buildings in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia complied with these standards.
“[GSA’s Public Buildings Service] is struggling to meet the [American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineer] ventilation standard and to comply with CDC and OSHA guidance,” said a GSA inspector general report. “We found that PBS is not meeting—or does not have complete information to determine if it is meeting—the [society] ventilation standard for the majority of GSA-owned buildings. We also found that PBS has not consistently implemented CDC and OSHA recommendations to improve ventilation in GSA-owned buildings.
Overall, the IG said, “these deficiencies increase the risk that building occupants will be exposed to airborne viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19.”
The IG made five recommendations to remedy the issues it identified, such as taking on a thorough review to determine if air handlers in GSA owned buildings meet the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineer ventilation standard and making sure PBS staff who have ventilation system responsibilities are trained properly.
PBS Commissioner Nina Albert wrote in a response to the IG that they agree with the recommendations and outlines the steps the agency has taken or plans to take. “PBS considers indoor air quality to be vitally important for our occupant agencies, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
This was not the first time GSA was dinged for air quality issues by its watchdog.
The IG released reports about ventilation issues at the GSA headquarters child care center in March 2022; challenges to install CDC-recommended air filters in some GSA buildings in September 2022; and ventilation issues in unrenovated wings of the GSA headquarters in November 2022.