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Highlights

What GAO Found

The 23 civilian Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Act agencies reported various ways of considering and using telework as a space-planning tool, by, for example, implementing desk-sharing for employees who telework in order to relinquish leased space, or increasing the number of staff working in an existing space without increasing its size. All of the 23 agencies discussed telework in the context of space planning and achieving greater space efficiencies in either their space-planning documents or Real Property Efficiency Plans . The agencies that used telework as a space-planning tool generally reported implementing smaller or unassigned workstations.

Three of the four agencies GAO reviewed in greater detail––the General Services Administration (GSA); the Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Justice; the Centers for Disease Control at the Department of Health and Human Services; and the Bureau of the Fiscal Service at the Department of the Treasury––leveraged telework to reduce or use office space more efficiently. For example, GSA and the Office of Justice Programs used telework to accommodate more employees in a smaller office space as illustrated in figure 1 below. The Centers for Disease Control used telework to accommodate more employees in the same amount of space. The Bureau of the Fiscal Service reduced space without telework by reducing the size of individual workstations.

Figure 1: A Telework Scenario That Can Increase Space Efficiency or Reduce Space

Figure 1: A Telework Scenario That Can Increase Space Efficiency or Reduce Space

The 23 civilian CFO Act agencies reported several challenges in using telework to reduce space including human capital issues, mission suitability, and measuring cost savings attributable to telework. About two-thirds of the agencies said they would find it helpful to have additional information, assistance, or resources in using telework as a space-planning tool. GSA provides guidance to improve space utilization. However, GAO found that GSA last developed relevant formal guidance in 2006. This information, and that on GSA's telework and space-planning websites, was neither specific nor detailed and therefore of limited assistance to agencies that would like to use telework as a space-planning tool. Additionally, GSA's space-planning tool—the Workplace Investment and Feasibility Tool, intended to help agencies quantify the benefits and costs of telework––remains under development after more than 4 years, and GSA officials have not decided whether to make the tool available to other federal agencies. As such, agencies reported that they lack adequate guidance to determine how best to reduce space or use it more efficiently, and how to assess the benefits and costs of using telework in space planning.

Why GAO Did This Study

Federal agencies are exploring ways to use telework as a tool to reduce the federal footprint and use space more efficiently. GAO was asked to examine the effects of telework on agencies' space-planning efforts. In this report, GAO reviewed: (1) how the 23 civilian CFO Act agencies reported using telework in office space planning; (2) the specific ways selected agencies and GSA used telework in their office space planning; and (3) any challenges the civilian CFO Act agencies faced in using telework in office space planning.

GAO surveyed all 23 civilian CFO Act agencies, analyzed each agency's space-planning documents, and Real Property Efficiency Plans . GAO reviewed four agencies in greater detail based on analysis of telework data and other factors. For those four agencies GAO conducted site visits, interviewed officials, and analyzed agency documents. GAO also identified challenges agencies faced in using telework in space planning, based on survey results, agency documents, and interviews.

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Recommendations

GSA concurred with recommendations that GSA should: (1) develop guidance on how agencies can use telework as a strategic space-planning tool and make this guidance readily available and (2) complete and make the Workplace Investment and Feasibility Tool available to federal agencies for use in assessing the benefits and costs of telework.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
General Services Administration The Administrator of General Services should ensure that the appropriate GSA offices develop guidance including, but not limited to, how agencies can use telework as a strategic space-planning tool for reducing and optimizing office space efficiency and that the offices make the guidance readily available. (Recommendation 1)
Closed - Implemented
Pursuant to OMB's 2015 National Strategy for the Efficient Use of Real Property and its Reduce the Footprint policy, Federal agencies were required to develop ways to reduce the federal footprint and use space more efficiently through cost-effective strategies, including teleworking. Although OMB's policy documents required agencies to increase and maximize efficiencies in office space by implementing cost-effective strategies, none offered guidance or methodologies on how agencies might specifically use telework to achieve space efficiencies or reduce office space. In 2018, GAO reported that it surveyed all 23 civilian CFO Act agencies and found that nearly two-thirds of agencies reported that they would find it helpful to have additional information, assistance, or resources to assist them in using telework as a space-planning tool. GAO found that GSA last developed formal guidance on alternative workplace arrangements in 2006 and maintained several separate informational websites on implementing telework and optimizing space utilization. GAO also found that while GSA's informational websites and guidance documents on teleworking and space-planning offered tips for implementing telework programs and managing a mobile workforce, GSA did not provide specific information or guidance consolidating the concept of using telework as a strategic space planning tool. Therefore, GAO recommended that GSA should develop guidance including, but not limited to, how agencies can use telework as a strategic space-planning tool for reducing and optimizing office space efficiency, and make this guidance readily available. In 2020, GAO confirmed that GSA had prepared such guidance that included telework among other workplace design strategies. Specifically, GSA developed and made available on its website a 32-page document, Activity-based Planning, that explicitly includes telework as a strategic element of federal workspace planning. For example, this document includes telework as a strategy to help agencies meet financial goals by planning for organizational growth while containing real estate growth, reducing overall office space, and reducing real estate costs. As a result, GSA has now provided agencies a readily available document that outlines how telework may be used to reduce real estate costs and optimize office workspace.
General Services Administration The Administrator of General Services should ensure the appropriate GSA offices complete the Workplace Investment and Feasibility Tool and make it available to federal agencies for use in assessing the benefits and costs of telework to achieve office space efficiencies. (Recommendation 2)
Closed - Implemented
Federal agencies are exploring ways to use telework as a tool to reduce the federal footprint and use space more efficiently. In 2018, GAO reported that it surveyed all 23 civilian CFO Act agencies (excluding the Department of Defense) and found that they faced challenges in measuring the effect of telework on reducing office space. One such challenge was the agencies difficulty measuring cost savings that might result from space reductions attributable to telework. Despite this challenge, OMB's National Strategy for the Efficient Use of Real Property and its Reduce the Footprint policy encourage agencies to increase and maximize efficiencies in office space by implementing cost-effective strategies such as telework. However, neither document offers guidance or methodologies on how to measure the costs or savings that may result from using telework. GAO previously reported that GSA was developing an Excel-based tool to help agencies quantify the benefits and costs of using telework to achieve greater office space efficiencies. This tool-the Workplace Investment and Feasibility Tool (WIFM)-was aimed at helping agencies quantify the benefits and costs of increased telework participation and implementing other alternative-work arrangements. At the end of our work, GSA had neither completed the tool nor decided whether to make it available to other agencies for independent use. Given the absence of a government-wide tool, GAO found that some agencies had used their own resources to purchase similar tools for their space-planning needs from the private sector. Therefore, GAO recommended that GSA should complete the development of the Workforce Investment and Feasibility Tool (WIFM) and make it available to federal agencies to use in assessing the benefits and costs of telework and other initiatives that might enhance their office space efficiency. In 2019, GAO confirmed that GSA had completed the development of the tool and made it available for use by federal agencies. Specifically, GSA (1) developed a comprehensive training document; (2) held seven training sessions for GSA staff; and (3) held a "Workplace 'WIFM' Tool Overview and Demo Session," which was attended by 18 agencies. As a result, GSA now has a government-wide tool for agencies to determine the benefits and costs of using telework in space planning.

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