Report highlights possible taxpayer savings by closing empty state offices

HARRISBURG – A report requested by Senators David G. Argall (R-Schuylkill/Berks) and Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny) highlights flaws in the state’s management of state-owned and leased office space and outlines ways the state could streamline its real estate portfolio and save millions of tax dollars.

The issue was a hot-button topic at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the state budget earlier this year.

Argall and Vulakovich have been requesting answers from the Department of General Services to understand the scope of the problem of unused office space across the state after seeing empty floors of state-owned office space in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. That led the senators to sponsor a measure requiring the Joint State Government Commission to review state-owned and leased office space used and unused by state employees and suggest reforms.

“The number of state employees has declined by 26 percent since 1980, but we are not seeing the same reductions when it comes to office space owned and leased by the state,” Argall said. “This report gives us a blueprint to pursue reforms that have been proven in both the private sector and in other states as a way to save tax dollars. It is a gigantic waste of tax dollars when we have empty floors in state-owned office buildings, yet the state is paying to lease properties right across the street.”
“Several years ago I started taking note of unused offices in Harrisburg as well as in Allegheny County,” said Senator Vulakovich.  “Then in our State Budget hearings this issue came up again, so Senator Argall and I decided we needed to do an independent study of what space we have and how we are using that space. I look forward to working with Senator Argall and the Department of General Services to implement some changes outlined in this report to help in our common goal of saving tax pay dollars.”

The report looked at several reforms made in states, including New Mexico, Kansas, Oregon and Washington to change the way states procure and maintain real estate. Pennsylvania reduced its overall leased office space usage over the last 4 years, resulting in $10 million in annual savings. However, Argall and Vulakovich believe the state could save millions more each year.

The report suggests that the state should revamp outdated policies and procedures for office space utilization, establish better systems to monitor usage of office space within each state agency, improve existing state-owned facilities and allow state agencies to work together to share space, including conference and meeting rooms.

The senators will introduce legislation requiring all state executive and independent agencies to report their space usage to the Department of General Services. The department will then be required to provide the complete documentation to the state Senate and House of Representatives each year on the number of empty state offices and its actions to reduce the amount of real estate utilized by all state agencies.

“We need to get a handle on the problem and this forthcoming legislation is key to solving this problem and putting a halt to wasted taxpayer resources,” Vulakovich said.