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The Federal Government’s Smart Growth-Inspired Landlord

8:40 AM PDT on October 26, 2011

Robert Peck says he’ll gladly pay more to locate office buildings near transit – the time saved commuting makes it worthwhile.

Peck isn’t any old office manager. He’s the commissioner of the GSA Public Buildings Service, also known as “the landlord for the civilian federal government.” He’s in charge of acquiring office space for all federal departments and agencies.

So if he’s paying attention to transit access, it has enormous effects. In the Washington area, especially, the federal government is a big enough tenant that developers compete against each other to build according to federal specifications. As part of Executive Order 13514 [PDF], a 2009 Obama administration initiative that mandated federal agencies to pay more attention to reducing their carbon footprint, those specifications now include transit access and mixed uses.

Specifically, the measure calls on federal agencies to ensure “that planning for new Federal facilities or new leases includes consideration of sites that are pedestrian friendly, near existing employment centers, and accessible to public transit, and emphasizes existing central cities and, in rural communities, existing or planned town centers.”

Under Peck, the GSA looked at how space is utilized in white-collar office locations. They found that on any given day, about a third of the employees don’t report to work – they’re either traveling on business, on vacation, away at meetings, or home sick – and then another third are around but aren’t sitting at their desk at any given moment.

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