1800 G St. NW in Washington, D.C. (Thomas Brown / Staff)
Lawmakers are putting the squeeze on federal work spaces.
A House committee is directing that federal employees at newly leased offices get 157 square feet of work space per person or less. That space includes administrative and common areas such as conference or break rooms, employee workstations, executive offices and snack bars, but excludes space such as bathrooms, stairwells, lobbies, storage space, connecting hallways and utility closets.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has the power to approve federal leases arranged by the General Services Administration.
That amount of work space is roughly 20 percent less than the 200-square-feet-per-person standard the government used for its leased offices nearly a decade ago, which is the last time it had such a standard.
The latest leases approved by the House panel last month are illustrative:
• 1,059 employees of the State, Justice and Veterans Affairs departments will each have 155 square feet of working space. That $216 million, 15-year lease for 294,000 square feet at 1800 G Street NW in Washington takes effect in May.
• 1,361 State Department employees, currently working in numerous leased offices, will be consolidated to two facilities — one in Washington and one in Arlington, Va. — before the end of 2012. Under that $345 million, 15-year 469,000-square-foot lease, the employees will be limited to 156 square feet per person.
• 510 Department of Homeland Security employees will have 138 square feet per person under an $88 million, 10-year 147,000-square-foot lease in New York. The lease will take effect before the end of 2012.
The space restrictions are an effort to reduce unneeded space and bring down government costs.
"Any means of more efficiently managing and utilizing federally owned space is on the table," said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee spokesman Justin Harclerode.
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., chairman of the public buildings subcommittee, said he is considering creating a standard utilization rate for all newly leased federal offices. While he did not say what that rate would be, he said 157 square feet per employee is near the upper range of what he is willing to approve.
"We've got to do more with less," Denham said. "You cannot define how much space we can get rid of or how much we need until we have a utilization factor."
For now, the subcommittee will look at each lease as it is proposed to see how much space per employee is needed and establish rates that are comparable to the private sector. Private-sector rates vary from 60 square feet for "hoteling" workstations employees can reserve as needed to 130 square feet for administrative staff and up to 300 square feet for executives, according to space studies conducted by GSA.
GSA is required by law to submit prospective leases valued at more than $2.66 million to Congress for approval. The above leases have not yet been approved by the Senate, but restrictions on space imposed by the House committee cannot be changed.
In response to pressure from the administration and Congress, agencies have already begun to reduce their space per employee — "tight-sizing" their operations by shrinking work spaces and employing alternative work arrangements such as teleworking.
The latest space rates put the government further in line with private-sector rates and mark only the beginning of space-saving efforts, said Jae Lee, senior vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle Americas Inc., a leasing and property management firm. He said this latest effort stems from a 2010 executive order to reduce unneeded federal property and cut spending.
He described the new rates as "pretty aggressive" and said the government has the potential to save millions of dollars per lease and billions of dollars governmentwide.
"The times of having nice window office spaces for your workforce — those days are gone."
Workers should expect to see more open layouts and different styles of workstations, he said.
Federal employees are already seeing a growing trend in new work arrangements:
• Reservation systems — or "hoteling" — that assign cubicles on a daily basis, instead of permanently.
• "Touch down" spaces, which are areas with desks and seating for employees who are only in the office for a short time during the workday.
• Lower partition walls, which officials say reduce noise pollution because employees are more mindful of their noise.
The Health and Human Services Department directed agencies in early 2011 to reduce space from an average 215 square feet per person to 170 square feet.
GSA is renovating its Washington headquarters to host 6,000 employees — up from 2,000 — with a 100,000-square foot increase in space, according to GSA Public Buildings Service Commissioner Bob Peck. That gives each employee about 133 square feet of space. The project will be completed in 2016.
Don Bathurst, chief administrative officer at the Department of Homeland Security, said the department consolidated space at one of its Washington locations by leasing less space, and shrunk space from 215 square feet per person to less than 100.
DHS reconfigured that building's spaces to be more collaborative by creating more meeting spaces and facing work spaces toward each other. It also increased teleworking to save $900,000 in lease costs at this one location annually.