Agencies share strategies for upgrading facilities

Thursday - 6/30/2011, 11:51am EDT

George Jakabcin, TIGTA, and Lou Williams, GSA

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By Ruben Gomez
Federal News Radio

The future of federal office construction projects could be defined, in part, by the way the General Services Administration modernizes a building that opened for business 94 years ago.

The facility, on 1800 F St. in Northwest Washington, has served as the agency's headquarters since 1917. GSA moved about 1,400 employees to a new, temporary facility, so the renovation can proceed.

"You can create a very modern facility within a historic facility." Lou Williams, project executive for GSA's National Capital Region, told Federal News Radio during a panel discussion, Agencies on the Move. The agency considers the temporary facility a test bed for ideas that can be incorporated into its historic building and possibly other federal construction or renovation projects.

GSA is among several federal agencies that are either building new facilities or renovating existing buildings.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration's office (TIGTA), which oversees the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), is building its new space, at 14th and H streets in Northwest Washington with a mobile workforce in mind. TIGTA, which has not moved headquarters since it was established in 1998, will build a new facility that is 13,000 square feet smaller than its current home.

"What we are seeing as part of our new space is a physical manifestation of the lessons we've learned as part of our telework experience, our culture and our workflow," said TIGTA CIO George Jakabcin, who also participated in the Federal News Radio panel discussion. "We've embraced the notion that telework, or work, is what you do. It's not where you go every day."

Eight in 10 TIGTA employees are eligible to telework and more than 50 percent of those workers engage in telework full time.

Choosing technology
With remote working in mind, TIGTA provides webcams that employees can use to conduct "face-to-face" meetings with colleagues.

"We can stand up, on a moment's notice, a meeting with people literally across the enterprise - across the country - and have that kind of interchange."

A wireless-only future?
GSA's temporary facility uses secure wireless technology as the primary way for employees to connect to its network although the building also includes a wired connection used as a backup system.

"Why do you need to wire a building?" Williams said. "And, why spend the money?"

Williams called the system a test. If all goes well, the project could encourage other federal agencies to get rid of wired connections in new or renovated buildings.

Planning and selling the move
Getting all stakeholders on board with plans for a move is critical, Williams said. Ahead of the move to its temporary facility, GSA launched a series of councils with representatives from each of its business units.

"It was very important to keep them informed on a regular basis on our planning process - getting ready for the move, the design updates, how the space was coming together," he said. "And we also worked with the [GSA] Office of Administration. ... And that was critical as well, because they were very supportive of what we were trying to do - to really look at this modern, efficient workspace, and to really test programs that they were championing."

GSA also provided tours for employees who were interested in seeing the building during construction and move-in. The tours also aimed to familiarize employees with their new surroundings, including transportation options.

Juggling needs and desires
Finding solutions that satisfy everyone can be difficult, Jakabcin said. Planning for a move requires a delicate juggling act.

"There are administrative guidelines that we have to follow that flow from the White House," he said. "We have our own internal desires. We have the needs of the individual."

This is where collaboration comes in, Jakabcin stressed.

"In retail, they talk about ‘location, location, location,'" he said. "In situations like this, it's ‘communication, communication, communication.' In our instance, where we first started this whole process and we were trying to find the space - negotiating the contract - there wasn't a whole lot we could tell our employees. You could feel the tension rising. You could feel the frustration."

But things improved, as decisions were made and communicated, in part with help from an internal website and photographs of the new facility under construction. TIGTA also looked for ways to involve employees by, for example, asking them for thoughts about color schemes.