Government Buildings Remain Ghost Town Post-Pandemic

A new assessment by the General Accounting Office (GAO) shows that most government buildings in Washington, D.C., are still vacant, with 17 out of 24 agencies using 25% or less of their headquarters’ office space. The office occupancy rate in every government building (save the Treasury) was below 31%, and in some cases, it was much lower. Forty percent of Treasury Department personnel were back on the job when the GAO poll was taken, which is better than the average.

Seven percent of available desk space was in the Social Security Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, nine percent in the Small Business Administration, twelve percent in the Office of Personnel Management, and fourteen percent in the Department of Transportation.

Operating at 11% were the General Services Administration and the Department of Agriculture, the two agencies responsible for managing all federal facilities. Situated on 11 acres, the massive Ronald Reagan Building is home to the United States Agency for International Development. After the Pentagon, it is the second biggest federal building, with 3.1 million square feet of office space.

Throughout the periods that the GAO examined, the Department of Homeland Security had an occupancy rate of 31%, and USAID had a rate of 23%.

Low occupancy rates have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic’s lax telework regulations, even though federal agencies have significantly underused their office space since the early 2000s. The GAO determined that, even if all allocated workers were to enter the facility on a single day, only 67% of the building’s capacity would be used, according to its estimates for one of the federal headquarters buildings. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many government employees have been working remotely. The broad COVID telework regulations have prompted the need to update and reduce the size of the federal real estate portfolio.