What happens when government aid doesn't go where it's supposed to?
As the Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), Dan Tangherlini is in charge of the more than 354 million square feet of office space in federal facilities located around the world. Tangherlini joins Kojo and architect Roger Lewis to chat about how the GSA shapes the face of Washington, D.C. – as well as communities elsewhere.
- Dan Tangherlini Administrator, General Services Administration (GSA)
- Roger Lewis Architect; Columnist, "Shaping the City," Washington Post; and Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of Maryland College Park
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Who's the biggest landlord in the world? Nope, not Donald Trump. He's a federal employee in charge of a government agency with a rather nondescript name. Dan Tangherlini runs the General Services Administration and, as such, is responsible for managing and leasing more than 375 million square feet of office space in 9,600 buildings in more than 2,200 communities across the country.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThese are buildings and facilities that shape the face of places like Washington D.C. and shape the lives of the legions of people who work inside of them. Dan Tangherlini joins us in studio. He's the administrator of the General Services Administration. Dan, good to see you again.
MR. DAN TANGHERLINIThank you very much for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou're welcome. Also in studio with us is Roger Lewis. He's an architect and urban planner. Roger writes the "Shaping the City" column for the Washington Post. And he's professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. Roger, always a pleasure.
MR. ROGER LEWISAlways a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call. 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. Dan Tangherlini, even long-time D.C. residents may not be aware of the role that the GSA has in shaping Washington. Can you describe what the General Services Administration does?
TANGHERLINIIt's a great question. There are really three major things we do. And you alluded to it in the opening remarks. One of them is we provide office space for federal employees and agencies to deliver their missions. We have 370-some million square feet of office space across the country. And we house about a million tenants, including a very important family.
TANGHERLINIWe also provide acquisition services to the federal government. We do about 15 percent of the acquisition purchasing for federal agencies. It's about $65 billion a year worth of transactions. And then we have a very important role, a growing role, in information technology and helping agencies find ways to bring the way they deliver services into the 21st century. And we have some interesting and exciting work we're doing around that.
NNAMDIRoger, how would you describe the way this agency contributes to what this city looks like and to what other communities around the country look and feel like?
LEWISWell, being an architect, I can't help but put at the top of the list the fact that they build buildings for federal use. And those buildings, those works of architecture are visible and often in strategic locations. So I think -- I've always felt that GSA not only have this federal responsibility, but I think they -- and I'm sure Dan would confirm this -- they have a responsibility, if you will, to the environment, to the city, to whatever the community is where they're building, to worry about urban design and esthetic issues as well as all of these functional and technical issues.
LEWISSo I think, and certainly Washington, correct me if I'm wrong, but I suspect there are more GSA properties in this city than any other city in the United States.
TANGHERLINIIt's almost 25 percent of our entire inventory, actually, is in the national capital region, so that's D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. How do you feel federal government buildings contribute to the fabric of Washington D.C.? Which ones do you feel contribute positively? Which ones do you feel, oh well, detract? 800-433-8850. Dan, you've had a lot of jobs in Washington. You served as the city's administrator under Mayor Fenty. You had a stint as the general manager of Metro. You ran the local Department of Transportation under Mayor Anthony Williams. How do those experiences inform the vision that you're now trying to execute at the GSA as far as how the federal property is part of the fabric of local Washington?
TANGHERLINIWell, I think Roger actually really made a very good point in saying that the federal government, it's physical presence actually does play a role in contributing to the economic development of the city, the vibrancy of the city, or sometimes even detracting from it, if we don't get it quite right. And that's not just Washington D.C., that's in every one of the cities that we are fortunate enough to be hosted in. And so that's a big part, I think, of the role of the administrator of GSA, is recognizing the fact that we can be a positive contributor or we can have detrimental effects if we aren't careful and thoughtful about the way we put our presence in that city.
NNAMDIPeople have a lot of opinions about the federal buildings in the city, like the ones that line Constitution Avenue, that most people feel seem to contribute to the classical look in Washington. Others, like a lot of the buildings off of Independence Avenue, south of the mall, more typical of the so-called non-descript federal building. Where do feel good design and esthetics should fit into the philosophy that GSA implements in managing the office space it already has and in building new spaces here in Washington and beyond?
TANGHERLINIWell, dating back right to the beginning and the founding of our nation, there's always been some focus and attention paid to architecture and the expression of the values of architecture -- the expression of our values through architecture -- expression of stability, some idea of monumentality. And so as the program of having a chief architect for the United States came out of the Treasury Department, where it originally was housed, and was moved into the General Services Administration almost exactly 65 years ago, we have maintained some consistent thread of paying attention -- thoughtful attention to that.
TANGHERLINIBecause what we're doing is building an asset that will have long-term value that will, you know, hopefully remain for many generations and continue to contribute. So we think about how does it look, how does it work, flexibility, the ability to evolve. You know really great buildings are ones that you can hold on to for hundreds of years and continue to find ways to use it in society as it evolves.
NNAMDIRoger, you've been a peer reviewer in the GSA's Design Excellence Program, something that started in the nineties, to make high-quality architecture a national goal. What is that program? How does it work?
LEWISWell, I think it's -- really this is, if you will, a footnote to what Dan just said. I think that what happened historically is that there were a lot of federal buildings that not everybody was in love with. There was a sense that often the design teams were selected primarily because they had done many previous projects, as opposed to selecting architects and designers who promise to do something other than conventional design.
LEWISAnd so this program was launched to raise the bar both on how architects were selected -- and in particular to give architects who generally had not done work for the federal government -- but to raise the bar as to selecting architects and then to institute a process for reviewing their designs as they evolve to, again, achieve the highest quality, given the budget. So we should not have this conversation without at some point, talking about...
NNAMDIOh, we will.
LEWIS...economic constraints. But that was the intention. And they set up the design-excellence program to implement that aspiration, if you will. And at the time, there was a lot of -- there was a lot more money around for building new facilities or remodeling or retrofitting existing facilities. I worked on a number of courthouses, new courthouses, which are -- some of them are award-winning, fabulous buildings, such as the one in Seattle. There was some criticism, I should add one other point. There's some people who look at the government and say, well, why should we worry about beauty? Please build us something that works and no more than that.
LEWISI mean, one of the things that I think Dan is always facing -- GSA has always faced is this pressure or this difference between those who think federal buildings should aspire to something beyond the minimal, versus those who think that this is taxpayer money, why should we spend a nickel more than we need just to give you some space and make sure it's fireproof and you can get out of the building safely?
NNAMDIAs -- this raises, Dan, from a philosophical perspective, how do you think GSA can balance form and function, when it comes to the designs for new buildings or for that matter retrofitting old ones?
TANGHERLINIWell, there is a very interesting debate about whether a beautiful building is actually more expensive than a not beautiful building. And if you think about full life-cycle costs, beautiful buildings have a tendency to last a lot longer, in part because people take better care of them and they seek to maintain them. And so what you miss is maybe the full life-cycle cost of a less beautiful building. Now the question is, what is beauty? And that's when things get very hard. And I turn it over to experts like Roger to help us think through those issue.
TANGHERLINIBut what I think of in terms of beauty is a building that has flexibility, that has durability, that has low operating costs and low maintenance costs, and then is also appealing and can cross generations in its appeal. And so that's why we turn to experts in the field of architecture and ask them to give us a sense of, you know, what is an enduring design esthetic, but is also one that is operationally efficient, that is flexible, that can respond to the changing needs of its occupants. That's what really a beautiful building is.
NNAMDII wanted -- you were going to say, Roger? Go ahead.
LEWISWell, I just -- I have to add something else, which is a relatively recent, additional objective, which is sustainability. I mean, one of the things that GSA is, I think, taking the lead on -- we can talk about this later a bit more -- but making buildings greener is certainly part of this. Because again, initially, for example, you might have to spend a little more money to get the greenest possible building. But if you do a life-cycle cost analysis, as the GSA does, in the long run it pays off. So I think that GSA is doing a lot to try and make its properties as sustainable as possible.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. From GSA on to, I think, maybe, HHS. Bryan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRYANHey, Kojo. How are you?
NNAMDIIt's Bryan Sivak. How are you?
BRYANI'm great, I'm great. And I'm really thrilled to hear Dan on your show. Dan, I love the work that you're doing. But I've got a question for you. So I'm sure you've been in the building I work in, which is the Hubert H. Humphrey Building in downtown D.C.
BRYANThis building, I don't know if you saw this or not, but it was just listed today on BuzzFeed as one of the seven ugliest government buildings in Washington D.C. Now those guys were talking about the outside of the building. But what I can tell you is that the internal working environment here is one of the really least effective that I've ever had the pleasure of being in. We've got lightless corridors and offices, cubicles that go to the ceiling. I mean, it's basically the opposite of everything I think a modern workplace should be.
BRYANSo my question for you is this. How is GSA going to address this challenge to help build a working environment for the government of the future? A place where we want to attract kids who are just graduating from college, people who, you know, maybe are in Silicon Valley now used to these, you know, really great working environments. How do we bring -- what are we going to do to change the way that these environments -- how they exist?
TANGHERLINIBrian, that's a fantastic question. I really appreciate you reaching out and calling and it's great to hear from you. I agree with you that there is an awful lot of the interior design of our buildings that need additional attention and focus, because the way we're doing business -- and you know that from your work in technology over at HHS -- the way we're doing business is dramatically changing. Expectations of the consumers, of the way they're going to consume federal services, is dramatically changing because of the way they consume almost every service has changed dramatically over the last decade.
TANGHERLINIWe've been building buildings under an assumption we're going to continue to work the way we've worked for the last 50 or 60 years. And what we have to recognize is that more and more it's about collaboration, it's about team building, and with people's ability to access the information they need to do their work available through mobile means. The office space is less and less a place where you have to go to do work and more a place where you're going to go to try to collaborate, do teamwork, maybe get training. And that means we have to have vastly more flexible space and space that recognizes the way people are going to work in the future.
TANGHERLINIAnd I think that that means tearing down more walls, assigning less space to individuals and more to groups, creating much more open space, much more conference room space, much more training space. It means attacking the cubicle. And that's why we've taken on the challenge within the GSA headquarters of trying to reform the way we occupy space.
NNAMDIThe New York Times -- stay on the line for a minute, Bryan -- the New York Times ran a piece earlier this month about the desk sharing at GSA employees who have become nomads. How does that work? Your office is now apparently a sharing space for 50 people.
TANGHERLINIYeah, so the traditional administrator's office at the GSA was a 1600-square foot room for one person.
TANGHERLINII traded that in for a 6,000-square foot room and I have 49 of my closest colleagues, friends and associates working in there with me now. And across the building, across 1800F, what we've done is torn down walls and eliminated private offices. Eighty percent of the desks aren't even assigned. People actually register up to two weeks in advance to go and sit in a desk.
TANGHERLINIAnd what we found is that we've been able to dramatically increase the utilization rate of the building. We've almost doubled the number of people in the building. Save $24 million in rent, $8 million in operating costs and dramatically improved people's ability to collaborate and communicate.
NNAMDII'd like to hear both Roger Lewis' and your, Bryan Sivak's (sp?) take on this. For those who are not familiar with him, Bryan Sivak was the chief technology officer for the District of Columbia and at one time the chief innovation officer in Maryland. He's now chief technology officer at Health and Human Services. Your take, Bryan, on what Dan Tangherlini just said.
BRYAN SIVAKSo, you know, I've been over to the GSA offices and 1800F. I've seen -- Dan actually took me on a tour of the office he gave up, which you should get him to tell you the story. It's actually got some history to it, but it's what you would imagine, the mahogany paneled wooden room that, you know, you think of when you think of those kind of places. And his workspace is phenomenal.
BRYAN SIVAKThe work that they've done in the GSA building I'm a huge, huge fan of. I believe in everything Dan just said, no private offices, walls being torn down, no cubicles, collaborative space, tons and tons of collaborative space. I love the idea of not assigning permanent workspaces. I think that it encourages people to get up and move around and talk to each other. So I think it's a hugely positive move.
BRYAN SIVAKYou know, we are absolutely willing to be guinea pigs over here at HHS if you ever want to expand that program. I think one challenge that we face sometimes is explaining to our bosses, the taxpayers, why this is a valuable thing to do. I think your ROI, Dan, is a really great example...
SIVAKThe return on the investment. The money that he's been able to save by doing this at GSA I think is a great argument for why we should continue to do this across the government. But I think sometimes we also need those arguments to be detailed so that the public understands why it's not -- you know, we're not just giving a fancy new office to government employees. What we're actually doing is making everything cost less and work better by changing the way the workspace actually...
NNAMDIRoger Lewis, I was going to ask you how have federal buildings changed since the design excellence program started. Instead, what are the design challenges for a changing work environment in the way that both Dan and Bryan have described it?
LEWISI think one of the challenges is that this mode of design that we're talking about now, which is making much more shared spaces, we need to recognize that one size fitting all may not always work. That there are some instances where, in fact, an office with a door on it or a meeting room, a conference room -- I know this is -- I know the -- my wife and I were talking about this this morning. She's an attorney who was in the federal government. And there were times when she needed to close the door and have a client-attorney privilege discussion or...
LEWISYou know, I think that generally, you know, the -- I don't know, maybe 95 percent of the people who work for the federal government, what Dan has described is -- you know, works just fine. But there are exceptions. So we need to recognize that. The other thing I want to mention is the importance of light. I think one of the things that -- Bryan was mentioning the corridors, you know, the dark places or the lightless or the viewless places.
LEWISThere's been decades of study that show that environments in which you can -- in which there's light -- and light, by the way, has lots of sustainability because if you have natural light you can turn off the electric lights and save a lot of money. It's one of the major tactics in creating sustainable buildings is giving everybody some light. In Germany it's a law. In Germany if you build an office building, you cannot have a desk more than 5 or 6 meters from a window wall.
LEWISSo I think that what -- there's some really wonderful things that come about as a result of what GSA is doing. And one of them, in my opinion, is -- that goes along with the sharing of space is having light and view and knowing whether it's raining or it's night outside.
NNAMDIDan, systems like this, however, may face some resistance from the fans of the traditional office. Do you foresee desk sharing culture catching on in other federal agencies? Obviously Bryan feels it should.
TANGHERLINIWe've already seen it happening in other agencies. And I just go back and completely endorse what Roger said about not assuming that this is 100 percent solution for 100 percent of people. The simple fact is though, our design philosophy had assumed almost 100 percent solution in terms of the private office space. And so what we're saying is, look, we think we can dramatically improve utilization rates of offices we think by actually recognizing how people use offices.
TANGHERLINIAnd we use data from the 1800F building before the renovation and actually counted the number of people who were sitting at their desk at any given time. And at its peak occupancy the building was never more than 50 percent occupied. Now those seats weren't 50 percent occupied? Why? People were in conference rooms, they're meeting in other agencies, they're traveling. Whether on leave or doing telework, and 100 percent of GSA employees have a telework agreement. Eight-four percent of GSA employees use their telework agreement sometime during the year. Some people have complained that we've taken away the snow day as a result of it.
TANGHERLINISo the fact is why would we ask the taxpayer to carry 100 percent of the cost of that asset if we're only using it half of the time during the workday? And so that's the real issue. If that money could be put back into programs, if that money could be given to give people better training or better equipment, why don't we get a better outcome?
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. Bryan Sivak, thank you for calling.
SIVAKOh, my pleasure. Thanks, guys.
NNAMDIYou too can call us at 800-433-8850. Has your workplace adopted a more innovative floor plan? Do you prefer to a traditional office? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Dan Tangherlini. He is the administrator of the General Services Administration which is responsible for managing and leasing more property than just about any other institution on the planet. He joins us in studio along with Roger Lewis, architect, urban planner, writes the Shaping the City column for the Washington Post and is professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park.
NNAMDIWe're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Gentlemen, the design excellence plan that we were talking about, started in the '90s when, as Roger pointed out, our economic situation was different. The financial situation was different. How are the challenges different now? Do people have to make tradeoffs when designing between pleasing architecture and managing a tighter budget? Is such a tradeoff even necessary? Roger, I'll start with you.
LEWISI don't believe so. I'm -- you know, I spent two years in the Peace Corps after architecture. I had no money and, you know, we built with stuff...
NNAMDIThe Algeria experience.
LEWISNo, no. I have always believed -- I taught students for 37 years this, that generous budgets do not ensure quality architecture. And, in fact, I have done a lot of affordable housing in my career. Good architects can take the situation they're given, the budget, the site, the program. And if they're talented and if they work at it they can produce award-winning design. You do not have to have a Cadillac budget.
NNAMDIDoes a tight budget force you to be more creative?
LEWISYeah, absolutely. Absolutely. No, I think that -- I had only a couple commissions in my career where the client said, you know, I don't care how much money it costs. It didn't necessarily help things. It didn't hurt. No, no. I think that the thing that Dan is getting at and that we certainly talked about a great deal at these various design excellence reviews that I participated in, was that throwing more money at it did not necessarily get you what you wanted, either in performance or in aesthetic quality. So, I mean, I absolutely believe that's a truism.
TANGHERLINII'd just like to add to it. I mean, we think of design excellence as not just, you know, the appearance or, you know, the material used but we think about it in terms of the functionality, how it relates to its environment. An awful lot of time is spent thinking about how do you make something relate to the environment in which it's going to operate? So that if this is a hot climate, that you build into the building ways to have the building actually contribute to the cooling. If it's a cold climate you have it contribute to the insulation. So more and more our design excellence and our sustainability activities are really beginning to intersect.
NNAMDIWell, a lot of people would like to weigh in on the shared space issue. We'll start with Mary in Chantilly, Va. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARYYes, thank you. I'm listening to this discussion and it's all very businesslike, as it should be, but it's also very impersonal. And if a person is not in a factory-type setting and go into a shared space, where -- most people like to have a couple pictures of their family or their friends or a vacation place or a coffee cup. And I don't hear any language in your conversation about the working environment for the employee. So maybe you could address that. Thank you.
LEWISThe last few years, what I'm seeing is everybody pulls out their Smartphone or their tablet to show me the pictures of the family and the dog. No, No. I think that's an interesting point. I don't think that's precluded by new modes of workplace design. I mean, I think people are able to personalize these spaces but I think that that's -- I think there -- certainly among millennials, if not Gen Xers, I just don't think that's as compelling a need as it once was.
TANGHERLINIBut I don't want to downplay that actually. And that's one of the things I've been concerned about, is how do you give people an opportunity to have some personalization in the space so that there's a better and stronger sense of ownership? I agree with Roger. I mean, I think more and more that's where I go for the updated picture of my kids is on my Smartphone.
TANGHERLINIBut I think it is actually important for people to have some ability to kind of stake some claim to that space. And that's, I think, where the next set of conversations -- in fact, we've already started having that -- how can people have an opportunity to have some personalization and maybe personalize their work areas or could we actually use the laptops that people have that they could actually -- could they put -- you know, load pictures onto their screensaver?
TANGHERLINII think that this is an interesting question and I wonder if at some level part of the way you address it is the fact that you give people more ability to trade off, whether they're coming into the office or working at home. And there's no place that's frankly more personalized than your own home.
NNAMDIWe continue the conversation -- thank you for your call, Mary -- with Jane in Washington, D.C. Jane, your turn.
JANEHi. I just wanted to call in to bring a different perspective on it. I actually previously worked at the GSA and found that while teleworking is wonderful and an amazing option to have, especially considering the fact that a lot of the spaces are hoteling, if you have a manager who doesn't understand how to develop a team in a teleworking environment as I have seen and been part of, you essentially become way less productive. And any conflicts that arise, instead of managing those conflicts, become swept under the rug.
JANEAnd because more people are teleworking, you're not really in control of your team anymore. Things get pushed to the wayside. It becomes actually a more hostile work environment. So I think that it's important to also speak to the nature of training and really making sure that managers take care of...
NNAMDIWell, Jane, we were talking less about teleworking than we were about shared space.
JANERight. But the thing is, if you have...
NNAMDIWould you see shared space as an alternative to teleworking?
JANEI do but the problem is, if you have a shared space, the idea is you have less bodies in the building because more people are at home.
JANEBecause that's what the GSA building is about.
TANGHERLINIWell, it's not entirely what it's about. I mean, that's part of it. The fact that we do actually have a pretty well-developed teleworking policy. But I'll go back to your real issue and the issue isn't really the space or teleworking. It comes down to the quality of management. And I would argue in traditional office space where everyone can kind of walk in and close their door and seal themselves off from managerial responsibility or employee responsibility, I think you can, and I have worked in environments where I'd say the productivity is impaired by that as well.
TANGHERLINII think that -- and I've said this before -- I mean, look, if you can't manage your folks under a teleworking agreement, you probably couldn't manage them if they were in the office. Because if management means standing -- sitting over their shoulder looking at what they're doing then if that's what it means to you, I don't know if you're doing it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jane. Roger, which federal buildings are the ones you feel may need the biggest do overs?
LEWISWell, we can start with the FBI building. It's the easy target.
NNAMDIWe always start with the FBI building, yes.
LEWISAlthough I really...
TANGHERLINIDon't call it a target.
LEWISNo, no. I shouldn't say that but, you know, in a column I wrote about five years ago, I can't remember exactly when, I suggested that actually that building, which goes many levels underground, it's a -- the demolition alone of that building, the notion of demolishing it ought to be very carefully looked at. Because it seems to me that if they -- if you save the skeleton of this building, the bones of this building, that it could actually be reskinned in a way. It could be -- that building could be transformed without tearing down the structure.
LEWISAnd this is partly a sustainability strategy. I mean, embedded in that structure is an immense amount of money and energy and dollars. I think that we were -- Dan and I were looking at a note that we were talking I guess when Bryan called about the HHS building, which I'm very familiar with because I actually did a GSA committee review over there in that zone where the HHS is.
LEWISThe brutalism period -- we've talked about this on the show many times -- I mean, there are a lot of buildings like FBI and like HHS, like the HUD building, which were done in an era when we architects -- this was in the '60s when I went to school -- we thought this concrete -- exposed concrete was the best thing since sliced bread. That didn't last very long but those buildings, I do not advocate just going and demolishing all those buildings and starting over again.
LEWISAs I've also always told everybody, the only durable philosophy in architecture is it seemed like a good idea at the time. I mean, everything else is mutable. And we find out that we think differently. I think these buildings -- a lot of these buildings -- and I know Dan is dealing with this -- can be retrofitted, transformed and don't have to be demolished.
NNAMDIWell, the end is drawing near for that building, as Roger was talking about what might be done with it. But there's also the search for a new FBI location fully underway, Dan Tangherlini, Virginia, Maryland and the district all vying for the bureau's headquarters. What are the measuring sticks, what are the -- what are you evaluating in order to make your decision?
TANGHERLINIWell, that's a great question. I mean, one of the things we're evaluating, the initial thing we evaluated is could we continue to get useful life out of the existing FBI building, taking the existing asset and maybe through targeted reinvestment. What we found is that the FBI building, as designed, and as it stands right now, is really designed for an FBI that doesn't exist anymore. It was an FBI that was very paper-based. The building's almost a giant file cabinet and that's not the way the FBI does its 21st century mission.
TANGHERLINISo we need to find them a new site where they can then consolidate all their activities. They're spread out in dozens of leases across the region. And as a result we lose the efficiency of having them have a single location where they can collaborate and cooperate and share information. So that's one of our big factors is how do we consolidate the FBI? How do we find a place that can hold all of it? How do we meet the 21st century telecommunications needs? How do we meet the 21st century security needs? And then how do we meet the access needs for the 11,000 peopled that will access that site?
TANGHERLINISo we've been spending an awful lot of time with really smart people over at FBI making sure that when we make this investment, we're making an investment that will last for 50, 60, 75 years for them as well.
NNAMDIHow do -- where do you stand in the process right now?
TANGHERLINIRight now we are getting very close to the next step on the site selection, which would allow us to down select to a number of sites that were put into what's called the NEPA process or the environmental review process. After that we're going to start doing a process that Roger's very experienced with, the prequalification process for actual developers. And trying to get an understanding of who would have the ability to not only build this new facility, but also take over the old one and trade us the value of the old one for a new one.
NNAMDIRoger, you were going to say?
LEWISNo, no. I think it's a tough call. I don't need to tell you that there are a number of competing sites. It's -- one of which I'm sure…
NNAMDIYou're going to need at least 50 acres. Fifty acres is my understanding.
TANGHERLINIYeah, we've said that that's our preference. And there's some ways you calculate that, but it's really finding a big enough site that can hold the full consolidation of the FBI. And we've had a lot of interest. Obviously, from Maryland, Virginia, D.C. There are some sites that were evaluated. So I think the real next process is coming down to those sites that we really think meet those basic criteria.
LEWISDan mentioned security. We haven't talked a lot about security, but I -- this reminded me. Right after Oklahoma City, the bombing of Oklahoma City Federal Building occurred, there was kind of a mild panic within the federal triangle, the Department of Justice. They were very worried about vulnerability. And GSA formed a panel -- put together a committee on which I served -- to look at the federal triangle issue because at that moment the Justice Department -- they actually wanted to get Jersey barriers, surround the building, get rid of all parking.
LEWISAnd what was interesting -- this goes back to the point we were making earlier about, if you will, one of the obligations of the General Service Administration, vis-a-vis cities, their environment. One of the things that came out of that was we convinced the people at Justice that we were not -- first of all, we all agreed we're not going to put barriers around this building. Secondly, these are part of the city, the streetscape. And there's a whole lot of urban design issues having to do with how the city performs and operates.
LEWISAnd basically, we said, you know, what these agencies are going to have to do is decide whether they're going to be part of city or move out to Reston or wherever. So I think you're -- the FBI, given what you've said, probably is now an agency where it makes much less sense -- regardless of how the building's designed -- to be on a block or two at the -- in the heart of the city on Pennsylvania Avenue. It's just -- it's no longer the right place for the FBI.
NNAMDIOn to John, in Alexandria, Va. John, you're on the air, go ahead, please.
JOHNYes. Hi, good afternoon. Thank you for taking my call. We were talking about, you know, personalizing office spaces. And I think that's a really important topic. I've been working in a cube for a long time and I'm not whining. I like my pictures and everything. But I think what we're forgetting -- I work at 1800 and F and they give us each a locker. I'll put my pictures in my locker. When I get to work I go in my locker, I take my pictures, I put them there on my desk, show off my kids, show off my grandkids. So that's one way to do it.
NNAMDIAnd then at the end of the day you put them back in your locker.
JOHNThere you go. Problem solved.
TANGHERLINIIt's pretty straightforward. That's true. And so the -- I think that -- I think what's interesting is how quickly people adapt to the environment they're operating in. And there are tradeoffs, in some cases, in exchange for having that continuous personal space so you don't have to go through the routine of taking out that picture every morning -- which actually is a nice way of reacquainting yourself with those nice people on that picture. It may be a reminder to update it.
TANGHERLINIEveryone gets extra light and air. Everyone gets access to private space when they need it. Everyone has an opportunity to book a conference room. And so we've made some tradeoffs and we think overall that more and more people are going to head in the direction we've headed.
NNAMDIWell, Elizabeth, by way of email, has a very specific question. "Why was the old post office on 12th and Penn Northwest leased to Donald Trump? By my lights, the old post office is a beautiful building and could have been renovated for government agencies."
TANGHERLINIWe agree that the post office is an extraordinary building. And that's why we've leased it, rather than sold it. Although, there was a lot of pressure on us to do the latter. We believe that it's a key asset of the federal government. We want to keep it. Why did we lease it? In part because actually we've tried having it work as an office building and it's really not a very effective office building in the modern way that we use office space. That goes back to that earlier discussion.
TANGHERLINISo we went through a very, very complicated, competitive process. And the Trump folks came out, after a lot of review and hard work, with the best deal, which we think will do the best job of maintaining that asset and bringing new vitality to that part of the -- to that part of Pennsylvania Avenue.
NNAMDIYour thoughts on that building, Roger?
LEWISWell, I agree. I mean, I think the building -- the building is going to remain. The important -- there was -- again, I've been here long enough to remember when they wanted to tear it down. The building was threatened back in the day. So the building is going to be preserved. I mean, I think this is a perfectly reasonable strategy that GSA has adopted for dealing with that building. And I think -- I'm hopeful that the Trump organization does what they're going to do.
LEWISBut they're -- they -- building in Washington, as Dan and I know from experience, is -- you've got to cross a lot of T's and dot a lot of Is and check off a lot of boxes. I'm going through a NEPA process right now for…
NNAMDIWhat's a NEPA process?
LEWISThat's under the Environmental Protection Act. You -- dealing with federal property. I'm -- we've got -- we're going to build a commemorative to the Peace Corps on federal property. We finally got the Congressional legislation. But we have to go through the NEPA process for that, even though it's a very small project. No. I think -- I'm not worried at all about that building. I think it's going to be a -- the right thing to do with it. I think the hotel is probably the right use for that building.
NNAMDIAnd one more question -- or observation on shared spaces. Donna, in Rockville, Md. Donna, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DONNAGood morning, Kojo -- afternoon. Thank you for my call. I'd like to ask you and your guests regarding the new open office environment, how does it take into consider people with disabilities, in particular, people with hearing disabilities who may be hard of hearing, utilize devices that either amplify or accent their hearing, and perhaps may be confused by the openness, rather than a dedicated space? Thank you. I'll take my answer off air.
NNAMDIThank you for your call. Dan?
TANGHERLINIOh, it does not in any way obviate our responsibility to make reasonable accommodation. And GSA is very proud of the fact that we work very hard to maximize the opportunities for all people to participate in opportunities to work GSA. But the interesting thing is there are a lot of assumptions that go into what the open space feels like, looks like, operates like and, frankly, sounds like. And when I give people tours of the building, I point out to them, the loudest thing generally happening in some of those big open spaces is me giving a tour as we walk through a roomful of folks.
TANGHERLINIWe made -- we've taken steps to do things like white noise generators. And we have worked very hard to make sure that people have headsets, if they need them. And to give people opportunities to use, you know, huddle space or breakout space or personal space when or -- when and if they need it.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. How do you feel the federal government buildings contribute to the fabric of Washington, D.C.? You can send email to email@example.com. Dan Tangherlini, government estimates suggest there may be 77,000 empty or underused government buildings across the country. Why is it so difficult to keep track of this space?
TANGHERLINIWell, it's -- there's a -- there's some really complicated stuff about definitions of space. What, you know, what's the definition of a building? But I have to say, we've been doing an awful lot of work with the Office of Management and Budget. And something called the Federal Real Property Committee, who contribute to the Federal Real Property profile -- that's the database that that information comes out of. Taking recommendations that have come from the general accountability office and doing, I think, a much better job, year over year, on accounting for that space.
TANGHERLINIGSA is very proud of the fact that we are doing an awful lot of work to get space that we don't occupy or is inefficient back into the economy by doing things like auctioning it or trading it for services, like we propose with the FBI. And I think you'll actually see over the last couple of years, the administration, the federal government has made a lot of progress in that area.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break, but you can still call us. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Has your workplace adopted a more innovative floor plan? Do you prefer it to a traditional office? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow. Dan Tangherlini is on his way out. Roger Lewis will still be here for the rest of the hour. Dan, thank you so much for joining us.
TANGHERLINIThanks so much. It was a great discussion.
NNAMDIWe're going to be right back. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're continuing our conversation with Roger Lewis, architect and urban planner. Roger, how do alternative workplace solutions, like the ones implemented by Dan Tangherlini and the GSA, cut costs?
LEWISOh, I think it's basically the fact that you can provide fewer square feet per employee in using this strategy. So a typical office that might be 10 x 15, 150 square feet, or 180 square feet, per person, if you, you know, add -- you add -- you take that into consideration. You add the fact that you've got to build walls, have a door. We were just saying to build a door, you know, a frame -- is -- can be $1,000 easily.
LEWISSo if you're getting rid of some of these partitions and some of the doors, and you, instead of using 150 or 180 square feet per person, if you're only using 90 square feet per person, the math is pretty easy. You're going to be able -- for a given population of workers, you'll be able to house them much less expensively with this kind of strategy.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned given population. Because if your given population that you're designing for has, oh, a disability, like people at Gallaudet, in Washington, D.C., how do you -- how do you -- how do you innovate, if you will, that design to make sure that it accommodates that special population?
LEWISWell, that's the architect's stock and trade. We like to think that the clients hire us architects in part because we will sit down and spend some time understanding who the population is, who is the client, what is the nature of the users, and actually design to satisfy, to meet the needs and requirements of that particular group, that is the client and users.
LEWISSo every -- I think all good architects, they actually go through a kind of analysis of their client and the user population before setting pencil to paper, to really understand what the needs are. And that's why I said earlier that you can't take a one-size-fits-all approach in this. So if you're designing an educational environment the standard might be quite different then if you're designing an insurance company office or a clinic. Every kind of building and every kind of -- every set of users -- usually there's some unique needs that have to be taken into account.
NNAMDIOn to Peter, in Washington, D.C. Peter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PETEROh, hi. Thanks for taking my call. I was listening to the discussion on the FBI building and the shortage of space.
PETERAnd that studies have been made to look for space to a new program. And at that time it was in the papers when I read about -- I remember reading about the shortage of space. And at that time I thought, driving past the Robert Kennedy Stadium…
PETER…that site and building, which is a very nice building, was a good subject for conversion for the FBI.
NNAMDIRoger, what do you think? RFK Stadium as a possible location for FBI Headquarters? The District has, I guess, implied or suggested a number of spaces. I don't think that's one of them yet.
LEWISNo. I -- not to my knowledge. I haven't followed the site search that closely, but I'm pretty sure that's not on their list. I think there is a question of what to do with RFK Stadium of course. I mean what should happen there, particularly now that they're talking about building a soccer stadium.
NNAMDIYes. But they also talk about ruling the professional football team back to Washington, D.C., at some point. And I'm pretty sure they want to do it in that space. I was intrigued when you briefly mentioned earlier about GSA's new courthouses. Because I suspect that a lot of people, when they think of courthouses, they think of places where people go to get tried and sentence. They don't very often think of design. But you say GSA's new courthouses are, well, pretty interesting designs.
LEWISYeah, they're very -- first of all they're a courthouse -- they call them courthouse buildings. They're partly office buildings because often in these courthouse structures built since the mid '90s, there are federal offices for the U.S. attorneys. That's very common, that they put the U.S. attorneys' offices in a part of the building. The buildings often -- they, of course, don't look at all like traditional courthouses that you might find in places like Frederick, Md.
LEWISThey're often high-rise buildings. The buildings in, for example, in Seattle and Portland, Ore., are very tall buildings, 25-story buildings. And the -- even the Gulfport, Miss., courthouse, which I was involved with, was a multi-story building that, when you look at it, doesn't necessarily say courthouse. So the imagery has changed. The program -- what's in them -- has changed. But somewhere up in these buildings are courtrooms, there are holding cells. I mean, the things that you would think you would want dealing with the actual court functions are still there.
NNAMDIThe FBI Building on America's main street, you say you don't think the building should necessarily demolish. What could you see as an alternative usage for it?
LEWISWell, it's -- it seems to me there are a lot of possibilities. Probably the most logical use is still commercial functions. That is some combination of offices and retail and entertainment and perhaps other things that I haven't even thought of. I mean, I -- that's the one thing that I haven't thought much about, Kojo, is what should actually go in it. When I wrote this piece some years ago, I was mainly thinking about how to change the exterior imagery of the building and introduce, for example, at street level, shops and restaurants or cafes.
LEWISThat's one of the things we didn't talk about. Awful lot of federal buildings in Washington, as we know, are occupied 9:00 to 5:00, Monday through Friday. But at night, weekends, the zones are dead. You know, there's -- there are parts of the city where nothing is happening, other than during business hours because for so long GSA's and the federal government's policy was to only have workplaces.
NNAMDIThat's a conversation for another time. Roger Lewis is an architect and urban planner. He writes the "Shaping The City" column for the Washington Post. He's professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. Roger, thank you so much for joining us.
LEWISThank you very much. It's a pleasure.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Montgomery County Public Schools recently denied a local girl admission to a language immersion program, and her father now says discrimination is to blame.
The Supreme Court today unanimously ruled in favor of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on appeal of his corruption case. The conviction was vacated, setting the stage for a retrial. We consider the implications of the ruling - in and beyond the Commonwealth.
It's hot, humid and officially summer, which means mosquito season is upon us. Kojo discusses local prevention efforts and the ways to keep yourself and your family safe from the viruses they can carry.