We’re paying billions in taxes for federal offices that are sitting mostly empty

I’ve seen this firsthand.

The pandemic changed how people work, with remote work becoming wildly more prominent. And the federal government was no exception. But now, post-pandemic, taxpayers are on the hook for billions to fund federal offices that are sitting mostly empty, a new report reveals.

Earlier this month the Government Accountability Office published a report examining the utilization of current federal workspaces, as John Kartch explains for Americans for Tax Reform, and its results were remarkable.

As Kartch notes, the report found that all 24 federal agencies’ headquarters are “vastly underutilized” with most headquarters under 25% capacity and several below 10% capacity.

That’s right: Many federal offices are 75% or even 90% empty. These include the Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, Department of Transportation, Small Business Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, and more cabinet-level agencies.

I’ve seen this firsthand. I remember when I still lived in the DC area, I lived near the US Patent & Trade Office. I’d walk my dog by the pristine, sparkling building every day, and for years after the pandemic, it was always almost entirely empty. Its state-of-the-art gym remained closed and the security guards posted seemingly had nothing to do. It always struck me as a remarkable waste.

Why does this matter? Well, as Kartch writes, “Taxpayers pay for air conditioning, heating, maintenance, and security for agency buildings at a cost of billions per year, while the same agencies lecture Americans about ‘climate’ and the type of stove you have in your home.”

This isn’t cheap. The GAO report notes that “The federal government owns 511 million square feet of office space, costing billions annually to operate and maintain.” That’s money out of our pockets.

So, what should we do about this wildly inefficient status quo?

Well, ideally I’d love to see the federal workforce slashed and many of these agencies and departments shut down. But, in the interim, I certainly don’t think the solution is to force employees back into their office. If they can do their job well working from home, that ought to be embraced as a win-win for everyone involved—especially since that means many of these jobs could be outsourced outside of the DMV region and therefore require lower salaries to boot.

Yet we’ve got to stop screwing over taxpayers. The feds should consolidate the offices and force federal agencies to share office space (they say they don’t want to do so because it will hurt their agency’s prestige/image) and let the leases expire for the unneeded space or sell it off if the feds own the property. That will get taxpayers off the hook for rent and expenses and let those buildings be put to productive use by the private sector (which, if used to create more housing could also meaningfully lower the cost of housing in the area).

The status quo, where taxpayers shell out billions to fund mostly-empty offices, is sadly symbolic of our current relationship with the federal government. If we want to get our house in order, we should start by correcting this depressing symbolism.

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Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo is a libertarian-conservative journalist and co-founder of Based Politics. His work has been cited by top lawmakers such as Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Pat Toomey, Congresswoman Nancy Mace, Congressman Thomas Massie, and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, as well as by prominent media personalities such as Jordan Peterson, Sean Hannity, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, and Mark Levin. Brad has also testified before the US Senate, appeared on Fox News and Fox Business, and written for publications such as USA Today, National Review, Newsweek, and the Daily Beast. He hosts the Breaking Boundaries podcast and has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.