May 13, 2021

Chairs DeFazio, Titus Statements from First Hearing in a Series on Federal Real Estate Post COVID-19

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Dina Titus (D-NV) during today’s hearing titled, “Federal Real Estate Post-COVID-19 Part One: A View from The Private Sector.” Video of opening remarks from Chair Titus are here. More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chair Titus, and thank you to our witnesses for agreeing to participate in this hearing.

The losses we have incurred over the past 14 months are extraordinarily painful. Lost loved ones, lost academic years, lost jobs, lost homes, lost businesses, lost wages, lost health, lost celebrations. 

But the pivot to working from home—largely considered a success—may profoundly alter the work-life dynamic in favor of American workers.   

Employees may expect more control over where they work and when. They might want to be able to open windows in their offices. They may demand information about building health and cleaning protocols. They may refuse to share bathrooms with entire floors of coworkers. They may want to increase their own space and avoid cramped meeting spaces. And they might want to change how they commute and how often they go into their offices. 

As states and cities announce reopening plans, federal agencies and the General Services Administration should be reassessing their real estate portfolios and asking the following questions:

  • Should per person utilization rates shrink or expand? 
  • Do agencies have more space than they need? 
  • How should space be reconfigured to protect human health? 
  • Do we have the right balance of owned and leased properties? 
  • Are we maximizing each owned and leased property? 
  • Are we efficiently disposing of the properties we don’t use and are not maintaining? 
  • Are we using the latest codes and technologies to reduce energy and water consumption and protect human health? 
  • Does GSA have the flexibility to maximize private sector assistance, expertise, and funding? 
  • How does repeated underfunding of GSA’s Repairs and Alterations program work against our climate and resilience goals?

The Recovery Act of 2009 provided GSA with $5.5 billion to convert federal buildings into high-performance green buildings, and renovate and construct federal buildings, federal courthouses, and GSA-owned Land Ports of Entry.

President Biden’s American Jobs Plan includes $18 billion for the modernization of VA hospitals and clinics, and $10 billion for “the modernization, sustainability, and resilience of federal buildings, including through a bipartisan Federal Capital Revolving Fund (FCRF) to support investment in a major purchase, construction or renovation of Federal facilities.” 

While Congress develops President Biden’s American Jobs Plan proposal and potentially provides new funding for GSA’s Public Buildings Service, we must ensure that any spending reflects our post-COVID-19 priorities of protecting human health and the environment.

I appreciate the participation of our witnesses today. Your experience in public and private sector leasing and construction, interior design, workforce development, building health and safety, federal scoring rules, and real estate financing, will help this Subcommittee develop the policies needed to turn GSA’s leased and owned real estate portfolios into high-performing assets that facilitate worker productivity and agency performance, while protecting the health of workers and our environment. 

I look forward to your testimony. Thank you.

Chair Titus:

I’d like to welcome everyone to today’s hearing and thank our witnesses for joining us to discuss the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the federal real estate portfolio and where we go from here. 

The past 14 months have been overwhelming. Families across this country are struggling to make ends meet. Small businesses and schools have been forced to close their doors to curb the spread of this deadly virus. The famed Las Vegas Strip, which is in the heart of my district, resembled a scene from an apocalyptic movie rather than a place that usually welcomes over 40 million visitors each year.

With businesses closed, schools moving to virtual classrooms, and our airports and highways nearly empty, unemployment reached levels not seen since the Great Depression.

Now with the implementation of the American Rescue Plan, vaccination rates continue to rise, infections are dropping, and communities are starting to open back up.

Of course, federal workers were not spared the trauma of the past fourteen months. Even those who were fortunate to be able to work from home had to deal with lack of childcare, the challenges of online schooling, and the health and well-being of their family members. 

While working remotely was not ideal for all and was, in fact, challenging for many, the experiment in widespread remote work is widely considered a success, and is prompting workers and employers to reimagine how and where work gets done going forward. 

Those conversations are no longer theoretical. We are reopening. Hair salons, restaurants, and gyms are returning to full capacity. Tickets for Broadway shows are going on sale. And the first major conventions and trade shows are returning to Las Vegas this summer.

As state and local governments are lifting restrictions and corporate America ponders calling employees back into offices, discussions about office space are speeding up. 

How much office space will organizations need? Will work spaces need to be reconfigured?  Will employee start and end times need to be staggered?  Will companies require employees to be vaccinated before they return to their workspaces? Will workers be allowed more flexibility to work remotely?

These are just some of the questions that are also relevant to this Subcommittee because we authorize the acquisition of space for the General Services Administration also known as the GSA.

The GSA provides workspace for 1.2 million federal employees, in every state and territory, across more than 50 federal agencies. GSA’s Public Building Service owns over 1,500 federal buildings and leases approximately 8,100 office buildings, courthouses, land ports of entry, data processing centers, laboratories, and specialized space around the country. 

With sixty percent of Public Building Service leases expiring in the next few years and agencies contemplating new ways of working, the government needs to rethink its real estate portfolio.

Currently, when agencies seek work space, GSA considers the amount of space needed; the type of space; the location; the neighborhood amenities; disaster risks such as seismic safety and fire protection; and most of all, the price.

As a result of the pandemic, GSA will have to also reconsider resilience, sanitation, air flow, spatial planning, and telework policies. The pivot will require GSA to consider how the built environment can help the government provide better services, attract and retain employees, and protect workers’ health.

Today we will host the first of two hearings exploring these questions.

In a moment, we will hear from expert stakeholders in the private sector with experience in the management, design, and construction of federal buildings and commercial spaces.

In our second hearing we will discuss these issues with the leadership of the General Services Administration and understand their approaches to these questions. In the coming weeks/months, I look forward to hearing from them about what changes in policies, authorities, and regulations Congress can or should enact to meet these challenges and promote healthy and safe work environments, while protecting the interest of taxpayers.

I once again thank our witnesses for being with us and for participating in today’s discussion. I am grateful for your testimony.