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USAID + GSA: Consolidating space to drive cost avoidance

Two-headquarter solution comes into focus for U.S. Agency for International Development

January 23, 2023

Seven disparate spaces in one metro area

A decade ago, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s 4,000 headquarters personnel were spread across seven Washington, DC, and Virginia locations in leased office spaces, one of which was a warehouse. Beyond the geographic separation, USAID’s flagship space at the Ronald Reagan Building was showing its age and making the wrong first impression.

“The unrenovated parts of our offices looked just like they did in 1995,” said Tony Bennett, chief of the Headquarters Management Division at USAID, during this summer’s 2022 PBS Customer Forum. “We would have applicants interviewing in these spaces, and they would see the old fabric cubicles … and worn-out carpets.” But Bennett and his USAID colleagues saw an opportunity in this insufficient space.

While the condition of the office space eased initial buy-in for a renovation, Bennett and his team saw it as an impetus for additional change. “We wanted to get to a two-headquarter solution and improve our utilization of space,” he said. “We wanted to fully modernize our space, to make sure our offices were state-of-the-art—including IT and security. We also put an emphasis on ergonomics and wellness. We wanted to ensure USAID’s offices were modern and relevant for years to come.”

GSA as a ‘model for change’

USAID officials collaborated with GSA workplace professionals to start the process by touring GSA’s headquarters building and then embarking on a project to pilot new concepts.

USAID chose to renovate 27,000 square feet on the seventh floor of its Reagan space, according to GSA’s total workplace design standards at the time. The modern, open office design included a lobby area, offices, workstations, and a tech cafe.

While there was organizational buy-in for USAID to renovate its space, the pilot showed senior leadership how future renovated spaces should function. “Our biggest hurdle was to convince people with 200-square-foot offices and private conference rooms to buy into this vision,” Bennett recalled. “Seeing the open-office pilot helped secure their approval. We have to thank GSA for being that model of change and helping us convince the people that this is the path forward.”

Pilot project spurs additional renovation

The pilot was so well received that USAID soon renovated its remaining space on the seventh floor to include a state-of-the-art operations center, sensitive compartmented information facility, and other classified areas with an open plan.

In 2015, USAID was ready to commit fully to the two-headquarter solution: consolidating its seven DC-area locations into two, and designing both to accommodate current and future mission needs. Bennett and his team codified USAID’s plans in a real estate framework known as the Washington Real Estate Strategy. Part of this strategy involved directly engaging office personnel through a team called Space Matters. This group has worked with USAID’s facilities team for the past seven years.

Additionally, GSA maintained strong lines of communication with USAID as its strategy moved forward. “In the early phases of the project, our goal was to develop a solution-based, proactive culture across all stakeholders,” said Nadiyah Scarlett, capital projects division director of a regional Design and Construction Division, and one of several GSA workplace personnel who managed USAID’s consolidation. This collaboration, Scarlett explained, facilitated decision-making and kept the project on track.

As consolidation planning and design continued, the GSA team established weekly progress meetings with key stakeholders, including USAID’s high-level leadership, representatives from impacted groups such as information technology and security, and contractors. “These collaborative customer meetings are very helpful,” Scarlett said. “I believe they have been integral to the success of the project.”

This article was originally published in the October 2022 Workscape newsletter.

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