Empty Government Offices Costing Americans Billions

Empty offices

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the federal government oversees 511 million square feet of office space, incurring approximately $7 billion in leasing and maintenance expenses. These high costs are borne by the American taxpayer.

Amid the pandemic, remote work has seen a significant surge, with approximately one-third of the workforce now working entirely from home, as reported by the Pew Research Center—a fivefold increase compared to pre-pandemic times. An additional 40% follow hybrid arrangements, commuting to the office for two or three days a week.

Regarding federal agencies, many have embraced hybrid work models, while few have firmly required continuous in-office presence. The Biden administration has yet to adopt a unified policy governing the return-to-office approach.

Officials in Washington, D.C., have been pressing the President to recall federal workers to their office spaces, contending that their absence has transformed the nation’s capital into a “ghost town.” 

Additionally, legislators from rural districts on Capitol Hill have echoed these sentiments, asserting that their constituents face challenges due to inadequate internet access and require in-person interactions with government agencies.

Despite these pleas, the influential unions representing federal employees have stood firm against the pressure to return to office.

The Real Cost of Empty Buildings 

In a recent study conducted by the GAO, it was revealed that remote work has become so pervasive within the federal bureaucracy that numerous offices remain virtually empty.

The GAO surveyed 24 agencies for this report and discovered that during the first three months of 2023, a staggering 17 of them utilized only an estimated average of 25% or less of their headquarters’ capacity. Notably, no agency utilized more than 49% of its office space during the same period.

“Underutilized office space has financial and environmental costs,” the GAO report notes.

Once again, the issue is not novel; instead, the pandemic has brought it into sharper focus. As early as 2011, the Obama administration had already identified 14,000 excess buildings and structures owned by the federal government nationwide (not exclusively office spaces). If these buildings were to be disposed of, it could result in annual savings of $190 million for American taxpayers.


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