Since 2003, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has identified Federal real property management as a high-risk area, prompting reform efforts across the Federal Government. The Department of Transportation (DOT), excluding the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), maintains approximately 300 office properties across the country, through ownership, lease, or an occupancy agreement with another agency, primarily the General Services Administration (GSA). In fiscal year 2018, DOT (excluding FAA) reported expending over $101 million for just the office space it occupies through GSA. We initiated this review in response to these factors, as well as our recent audit of FAA’s office and warehouse leases and the potential to improve the efficiency of departmental expenditures. Accordingly, our audit objective was to assess DOT’s utilization of its office spaces, focusing on the degree to which its office spaces comply with the Agency’s utilization standard.
What We Found
The Department’s May 2016 Office Space Design Standard Policy (Policy) only requires DOT to apply the Agency’s utilization standard to office space renovations and new acquisitions, which comprise a very small percentage of the total office space. While allowable, this approach limits the effect of Governmentwide initiatives to promote more efficient use of Federal office space. It also does not fully support DOT’s own stated Policy goals of ensuring efficient use of all office space and regularly reviewing space to act on efficiency opportunities when possible. The Department also lacks controls to ensure that its Operating Administrations (OA) document justifications if they deviate from the Agency’s standard; does not verify that OAs properly calculate their office space utilization rates; and does not have a complete and accurate system for tracking DOT office spaces. Finally, DOT lacks an overall strategic approach for reviewing its entire office space portfolio to find potential efficiency opportunities and cost savings. Based on our findings, we estimate that DOT could put $2.1 million to better use because it is paying for office space in excess of the Agency’s utilization standard.
We made five recommendations to improve DOT’s achievement of efficient office space utilization. The Department concurred with four and partially concurred with one.
No. 1 to OST
Develop, document, and implement a supplemental guide to DOT's Office Space Design Standard Policy (Policy) to provide the Department and its Operating Administrations (OA) guidance for applying the Agency's utilization standard to existing office space—including those spaces that DOT continues to occupy under new agreements—and clarify those terms related to the application of the standard, as identified in this report—i.e., new acquisitions
No. 2 to OST
Develop, document, and implement an internal control process to apply when an OA is planning to acquire or continue to occupy an office space that exceeds the Agency's utilization standard. At a minimum, the process should require the OA to justify with documented evidence that it has implemented a different standard based on mission requirements or that applying the Department's standard will not be cost-effective or a best value option. Implementing this recommendation could potentially put $2.1 million in funds to better use by preventing DOT from paying for unneeded space that exceeds the Agency's utilization standard.
No. 3 to OST
Develop, document, and implement a supplemental guide to DOT's Policy to provide OAs guidance on how to determine peak occupancy and accurately calculate the utilization rates for DOT office spaces in compliance with the methodology prescribed in the Policy.
No. 4 to OST
Develop and implement a process for tracking DOT office spaces and their utilization rates. At a minimum, this process should include the ability to track staff counts and a requirement for the OAs to regularly maintain and report up-to-date data.
No. 5 to OST
Develop, document, and implement departmentwide guidance on how all OAs are to conduct regular reviews of their office spaces to identify and execute cost-efficiency opportunities.