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The federal government is downsizing. Driven in part by a budget shortfall, the General Services Administration, which manages federal government office buildings, is undertaking several efforts to reduce the federal footprint in D.C.—-including an ambitious plan to transform the federal enclave in the Southwest quadrant into a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood.
As the GSA completes its return its newly renovated headquarters at 1800 F St. NW, the agency is leading by drastic example. Most employees no longer have their own desks; instead, they must reserve workspaces they want to use, 80 percent of which are unassigned, according to GSA spokesman Dan Cruz. Gone are the cubicles, replaced by an open layout. And with fewer square feet per employee, Cruz says the building’s capacity has increased from 2,500 to 4,400 people.
The Washington Post has a profile of the building today, with great details of the new work environment there—-which, frankly, must not be very popular among employees. Workers receive a scolding if they leave an ounce of clutter on a workstation they’ve borrowed for the day. Employees must log in electronically to the lobby and meetings, so their whereabouts are known at all times. GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini has given up his own 1,600-square-foot office in favor of an Ikea-style desk in one of the open areas.
“The intent behind the mobility is that you pay for a desk 100 percent of the time in a traditional office space,” Cruz tells me. “But employees aren’t using their desks 100 percent of the time.” Cruz says many GSA employees work from home, travel frequently, or manage construction sites and often aren’t at their desks.
From a cost-saving perspective, it makes lots of sense; Cruz says the GSA’s consolidation—-from six offices in D.C. and Virginia—-is saving the agency $24 million per year. But it runs counter to studies that find that working remotely just isn’t as productive as working in the office.
Cruz says the move is “not an experiment,” but rather “a culmination of GSA’s efforts” that include increased workspace sharing and telecommuting at offices in Chicago and Atlanta and at the Department of Homeland Security. Still, whether or not it leads to a more efficient federal government remains to be seen. But maybe that’s not for us to question. After all, if the feds consolidate their D.C. buildings and allow more retail and apartments downtown, that’s only good news for the District.
This post has been updated to include information about the types of work GSA employees do away from their desks.
Images courtesy of the GSA