The U.S. Agency for International Development’s global health staff will soon have a new space to call home as they are relocated from Washington, D.C. to Crystal City, Virginia. The agency is now tasked with finding creative ways to ensure the move does not disrupt bureau operations.
The move will create “significant new challenges to maintain productive relationships,” the management told bureau staff in a presentation obtained by Devex.
A number of offices in the Ronald Reagan Building — the agency’s colossal downtown headquarters — are scheduled for renovations, which prompted a “final decision” by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah in July to relocate global health staff — about 500 employees — across the Potomac to the top four floors of an office building in the northern Virginia suburb.
The bureau’s current office space will serve as a “swing space” for other agency divisions as their offices undergo renovations.
Many of the health bureau staff will likely face longer commutes, greater distance from other bureaus, and disrupted employee services such as child care and health facility access, the management said in the presentation.
“We share your concerns about being separated from colleagues with whom we work on a daily basis,” the management told staff in the presentation. “We will have to adapt our work styles, build in more time for transport, and rely more on telecommunications, among many other changes.”
Many of the bureau’s contracted staff are currently working in facilities other than the Ronald Reagan Building. At the time of the presentation in July, it was unclear whether those staff would also join their direct-hire colleagues in Crystal City, a question that “is complicated because of existing lease timelines, procurement factors and issues related to the type of awards under which staff are employed.”
“We are working with the management bureau and [general counsel] to make decisions as quickly as possible about which staff can move and on what schedule,” the management said in the presentation.
The move is meant to be temporary. USAID has access to the Crystal City space for three years, but the current management bureau plan is for global health staff to return to the Ronald Reagan Building after two years, once renovations are complete.
A USAID spokeswoman told Devex that the move is a positive step for a bureau that has been dispersed between different offices.
“We have people who are working in different buildings in Washington,” said Press Officer Lisa Hibbert-Simpson. “This will give them an opportunity to all work together in the same space.”
USAID’s Bureau for Global Health leads the agency’s efforts within the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, coordinates activities around child and maternal health, and provides technical leadership and support across USAID’s health-related portfolio.
According to July’s presentation, staff will move in waves of 50, beginning this month, but the USAID spokeswoman told Devex she expected the move not to begin until January 2015. Services including the health clinic, passport and visa assistance, travel agencies, human resources and computer support were not planned to be available on site in the new building.
“We have heard your desire to have some of these services provided on-site, at least on a periodic basis, and will explore the possibilities,” the management said in the presentation.
USAID is not alone looking for office space outside the expensive, crowded downtown D.C. area. The U.S. Department of State has also relocated some employees outside the district, and recently World Bank President Jim Yong Kim was reported to be close to a deal to purchase office space in the nearby Arlington County, though that has since fallen through.
A decade ago, then-USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios planned to relocate the entire agency to locations in Virginia, after he learned that the rent at the Ronald Reagan Building was close to $30 million a year, according to a report in the Washington Business Journal at that time.
Prior to moving to the $768 million Ronald Reagan Building — completed in 1998 — USAID was located in Rosslyn, Virginia’s “Twin Towers,” a space now occupied by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, among others.
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