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Biden’s Faces Pushback for Empty-Office Energy Spin: A Taxpayer Nightmare?

Conflicting Principles: Biden Government’s ‘Green’ Maneuver Amid Empty Offices

As the Biden administration makes strides towards promoting energy savings within the confines of federal structures, the lack of personnel within these premises has triggered considerable backlash. Critics are asserting that this move represents hypocrisy on the part of the government, noting the contradiction in promoting energy conservation within scarcely occupied buildings, simply causing unnecessary strain on taxpayers. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s recent praise of the administration’s efforts to prohibit onsite fossil fuel usage in federal buildings is a particular point of contention, given the near-empty status of these establishments.

Presenting a message of green change, Granholm articulated how the current administration is an acting embodiment of their environmental principles. She spoke about carrying over the energy-saving techniques the government is promoting across the nation, into federal buildings. This, according to her, matches their advocacy for net-zero emissions.

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Advancing this green initiative narrative, Granholm positioned their efforts as ones extending beyond external encouragement. The message is that the governmental bodies themselves are also endeavoring towards saving energy, hence saving money within their own buildings. Her words, however, are facing challenges of credibility.

Expressing skepticism and challenging Granholm’s declarations is Iowa Senator Joni Ernst. She alludes that the government is masking facts, insisting that these buildings are still consuming hefty energy quantities even though many remain vacant, due to the predominance of remote working. Not one to spare crucial concerns, Ernst sought to bring this matter to the administration’s attention by authoring a detailed correspondence.

In this comminiqué obtained by Daily Mail, Ernst made her misgivings apparent, proposing that the administration explore other routes instead of investing heavily in retrofit measures for energy conservation. She pointed out that the unnecessary heating, cooling, and illumination of empty government offices in Washington D.C. uncovers an opportunity to halt wasteful spending.

Anticipating the downside of the new rule, Senator Ernst warned the cost it could impose on taxpayers to modernize buildings currently reliant on fossil fuels. She posits this burden doesn’t make logical sense considering the number of occupants in these buildings has dwindled. She suggests there could be a more underlying, politically driven motive behind the push for this regulation.

Ernst identified an ulterior motive with a strong resemblance to the Green New Deal pour, with jobs generated under the guise of energy conservation efforts. She insinuates that the move could be more about funding a political program rather than genuine energy conservation. The Senator has been vocal with her sentiments about reinstating federal employees to physical offices, especially given reports of below 50 percent capacity utilization that emerged in December.

It’s notably significant in certain agencies, like Housing and Urban Development, the Social Security Administration, and the Small Business Administration which have reported utilization rates of a mere 10 percent. The Daily Mail reported federal agencies expend around $2 billion annually to keep these offices running, in addition to over $5 billion in lease costs. This financial toll becomes clearer when paired with a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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Federal departments and agencies, as per the GAO findings, have an alarming rate of underutilization of their office spaces. The Public Building Reform Board (PBRB), an autonomous agency tasked with overseeing and reducing government property inventory and associated costs, have also found similar concerning statistics. The findings show the grave issue of underutilization, a concern echoed by Senator Ernst.

Ernst’s remarks speak volumes about the extent of office space underutilization. To quote her words, ‘Not a single department or agency is using even half of their headquarters’. This widespread issue doesn’t escape the Department of Energy, with Ernst noting a mere 25 percent occupancy of its build.

Still more startling is the PBRB finding suggesting that the Department of Energy’s D.C. headquarters only sees an average of eight visitors each day. Ernst questioned this astonishing figure and prompted the PBRB to seek clarification from the department.

Aside from assessing individual departments, the PBRB provides a broader picture of underutilization within government buildings in Washington, D.C. Their study reveals an occupancy rate of 26 percent or less, alongside significant expenditure to maintain these largely vacant facilities. They specified that the outlay per person regarding maintenance seems unjustifiably high.

Expressing her misgivings regarding unscrupulous spending under the so-called environmental initiatives, Ernst alerted Granholm. She urged Granholm to provide updated figures on the daily footfall of Department of Energy employees within their office space. She reassures this isn’t a ploy against going green, but more a call to moderation in spending.

Ernst proposes a solution: downsizing the current government buildings that are underused, unnecessary, and effectively wasting resources; thus realizing both fiscal and environmental goals. In her proposition, she notes ‘Camouflaging new government spending in green doesn’t save money or energy. You can go green without going in the red by reducing the size of unused and unnecessary government buildings.’

Sen. Ernst lays out her belief that this revised approach to environmentally friendly government operations is what taxpayers truly want. She claims that this is the genuine ‘green new deal’ that the taxpayer prefers: practical, affordable, and fiscally responsible environment-friendly strategy.

While her proposal aims to blend both fiscal and contractual responsibility with environmental conscious planning, as critics vie to be heard, it’s clear that the discourse surrounding the issue of the government’s green plan for federal buildings is still ongoing. It remains to be seen how the Biden administration will respond and adjust its environmental policies in light of these concerns.


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