A consolidation and reduction of state office space should be underway next year – made possible because about 13,000 of the executive branch’s 31,000 state employees are teleworking – said Office of Policy and Management Secretary Jeffrey R. Beckham.
Beckham said the savings that may result is still unknown as the state prepares to hire a consultant to assist with the task of determining how much office space the state needs. Teleworking was forced on the state by the pandemic, but a 2021 arbitration ruling made telework a fixture in how state government operates. The arbitrator ruled that if employees are required to work in the office more than one day a week, the employee can contest the decision in arbitration. More than 90% of employees who applied to telework in State Fiscal Year 2023 had their applications granted, according to the Department of Administrative Services (DAS).
In an interview with CTNewsJunkie, Beckham said saving money is not the only goal of the effort. The state also wants to move away from older facilities that are expensive to keep up, to co-locate agencies with similar missions and clients, and to have less leased space and rely more on using state-owned properties.
Beckham stressed no final decisions have been made but he did give some examples of what could occur under the consolidation. The Department of Administrative Services (DAS), for example, is now divided into two offices, one in Farmington and one at 450 Columbus Boulevard in Hartford. Beckham said it would make sense to bring the staff in the Farmington office to 450 Columbus, which also provides space to the departments of revenue services, state education, economic development, agriculture, and other agencies.
He also said other state agencies have employees that could be located at 450 Columbus. Employees at 505 Hudson Street, Hartford, which provides office space to the Department of Children and Families and other agencies, could be moved to 450 Columbus, as could administrative staff now located in the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) building in Wethersfield. Beckham said DMV staff who serve the public would not be moved to Hartford, but rather would be moved to another location in Wethersfield or a nearby town so as not to inconvenience drivers and others with business related to DMV.
“We think we can accommodate some people in there” at 450 Columbus, Beckham said. “We’re pretty sure we can get the DMV administrative staff in there, and we would need a branch office to continue to accommodate” local residents who are accustomed to going to Wethersfield.
Beckham said changes should be started – but not completed – in 2024 and any identified savings will emerge over time.
“That’s a question we’ll have to answer,” he said. “We’ll know in a year or so how much we can consolidate.”
According to the State Facility Plan for the period from 2019 to 2024, the state leases 2.7 million square feet of office space at a cost of $59.3 million. The plan also says that DAS has determined that the standard for how much office space each employee needs is 220 square feet.
In addition, the state owns offices in Hartford and elsewhere. Beckham said he could not assign a cost to the state-owned offices because much of them are under the control of the Judicial Branch and the state university system. He said he expected a cost estimate would be identified by the consultant who will head the project.
While about 40% of the executive branch workforce is teleworking, no one is suggesting spending can be reduced by that amount as the use of office space is complicated by the fact that different staff are in offices at different times and days. So an office floor can be nearly vacant one day and be bustling with staff the next. In the private sector, however, one of the advantages of teleworking employees is that the businesses can reduce spending on offices. Many mayors across the country have complained about the resulting loss of business and tax dollars, including Hartford’s Mayor Luke Bronin, who has been calling on state employees to return to their offices.