Jan 4, 2023 - News

D.C. wants federal workers back to office this year

Man walks by closed storefront downtown

It's all about downtown. Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is using the first days of her new term to call out the federal government for its lax return-to-work policies.

What’s happening: At her swearing-in this week, Bowser pressed for “decisive action by the White House to either get most federal workers back to the office most of the time” — or to rethink how the federal bureaucracy uses its “vast” real estate.

  • The Biden administration has allowed most of its 200,000 local employees to continue working away from their D.C. offices for at least some portion of the week.

Why it matters: The revival of downtown continues to hinge on thousands more people conducting business there every day.

Context: The federal government owns or leases a third of D.C.’s office space, according to Bowser.

  • She wants that space to be used “by the local government, by nonprofits, by businesses, and by any user willing to revitalize it.”

What they’re saying: The federal “footprint is so large,” Bowser aide John Falcicchio tells Axios. “So for us, they’ve gotta somehow make that space available,” including, he says, “for the possibility of changing the use from commercial to residential.”

  • Bowser would like to add 15,000 new downtown residents over the next five years to get to 40,000 — an alternative way of revitalizing the area if federal workers don’t come back.

The big picture: Downtown areas nationwide have suffered as a result of the pandemic, but ours remains below average for office activity.

  • D.C. metro office occupancy was at 45% before Christmas, according to employee swipe data from Kastle Systems.
  • As of October, the D.C. office space vacancy rate was at 15.1%, up from 11.8% in 2020.
  • Marshalls became the latest big retailer to announce it would close at 14th and F.

Flashback: D.C. leaders were optimistic last March when President Biden said in his State of the Union that the “vast majority of federal workers will once again work in person.”

  • But agencies took differing approaches all throughout 2022, with many allowing a hybrid schedule that returned employees for a few days a week.
  • The "agencies are strategically using these types of flexible work arrangements to better advance their missions" and allow them to better compete with other employers in the labor market, a statement from the White House Office of Management and Budget said.

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