President Obama has directed agencies to dispose of unneeded office space and to take other steps to economize in the federal government's sprawling real-estate portfolio.

The goal is to save at least $3 billion by Sept. 30, 2012, said Obama.

In an executive order issued on June 10, Obama said, "For decades, the federal government, the largest property owner and energy user in the United States, has managed more real estate than necessary to effectively support its programs and missions. Both taxpayer dollars and energy resources are being wasted to maintain these excess assets."

Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said that of the federal government's 1.2 million buildings, structures and parcels of land, 14,000 are designated as excess and 55,000 categorized as under-utilized or not utilized.

To achieve the $3-billion goal, the order says agencies could employ options Such as speeding up the process for disposing of surplus property, ending some lease arrangements and consolidating facilities such as data centers, offices, warehouses and laboratories.

Agencies also could employ other workforce strategies, such as teleworking, to gain savings, the order states.

"The White House is looking for any place they can to show they're trying to cut the deficit," says Andrew Goldberg, the American Institute of Architects' senior director for federal relations.

In light of the fact that there are "a good number of unused properties" in the federal inventory, Goldberg say the new program is an understandable move.

Looking at the directive's potential construction impact, Goldberg says that if federal offices are consolidated, there could be a "real opportunity" for retrofits of existing buildings. He says those upgrades could include steps to turn older buildings into "high-performance" greener facilities.

Goldberg says that given the administration's strong desire to find savings, it would not be surprising to see officials propose to hold down spending on constructing new buildings. But he adds that the "cross-current" is that Congress and the courts have an appetite for new construction.

One particular target of the real-estate directive is federal data centers, which it says have "experienced a substantial increase" over the past decade. The order requires agencies to "immediately adopt a policy of not adding to existing data-center facilities" and come up with plans to "significantly reduce data centers" in five years. Those plans are due to be submitted to OMB by Aug. 30.

OMB will issue guidance to agencies within 90 days to help them implement the executive order.

In addition to the $3-billion savings target, the Dept. of Defense expects to see $5 billion in operations and maintenance cost reductions by the end of fiscal 2012 from the current Base Realignment and Closure round.

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