NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – More than a third of state employees are still working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A new report from the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) program evaluation unit shows the state is paying tens of millions of dollars for unoccupied office buildings.
The Human Services Department in Albuquerque is one of many buildings across the state with a lot of unused office space. Taxpayer dollars are paying for these empty buildings while state employees continue to work from home.
Clayton Lobaugh is a program evaluator for the LFC. He shared, “While other states have reduced building space and rent costs with telework, New Mexico is paying up to an estimated $18 million for unused.”
On Tuesday, the LFC’s program evaluation unit presented an evaluation of the state’s facilities and space utilization. Program evaluators say underutilizing state office space is not a new problem but it has been exacerbated since the pandemic, which led to more staff vacancies and teleworking.
Based on data from August, the report shows up to 38% of employees telework on any given day. LFC staff requested tours from the facilities management division of 15 buildings in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
In one case, the report found one nearly empty facility has a $1.2 million annual lease. The report says the state needs 15 to 20 percent less office space than it currently uses. Program evaluators gave recommendations to FMD on how to address this moving forward like using more data to monitor and manage unused space.
Annie Armatage, another program evaluator said, “This report recommends that instead, the division plans building space needs based on the number of employees that an agency is actually funded to employ.”
Another recommendation is to have FMD revise its current plans for a new executive office building in Santa Fe that would cost more than $200 million due to recent cost escalations and expected telework practices.
John Garcia, cabinet secretary for the General Services Department, will take these recommendations from the report into consideration. He’s confident more people will return to work in person and fill more office space.
According to the governor’s office, an updated statewide teleworking policy from the State Personnel Office is in the works following meetings with state employee union representatives.