Inspector General's report says Amtrak wasted $23 million on unneeded office space
WASHINGTON - Amtrak wasted at least $23 million by acquiring unneeded office space in Boston, New York, Washington and several other cities, according to a report by the railroad's inspector general.
The report by Stephen Lord, the assistant inspector general for Amtrak, sketches a picture of a quasi-public, federally-subsidized passenger railroad that lacks a game plan for securing office space for its workers.
In its Washington, headquarters, for example, Amtrak owns or rents three facilities other than Union Station, and is moving ahead with plans to construct a new building for its police force in what now is a parking facility right next to the station.
But the report says that Amtrak has downsized its workforce and that many desks in the three Washington office buildings are unoccupied. The report also says Amtrak maintains 24 leased or Amtrak-owned buildings in 12 cities, most of them on the East Coast, but in Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles and Oakland, as well.
In New York City, the inspector general found scores of unoccupied desks in three buildings adjacent to Penn Station.
Amtrak agreed with each of the reports four recommendations, saying it would "initiate actions to address each in a timely manner."
"Amtrak greatly appreciates the continued work of the Inspector General to assist us in ensuring we are good stewards of our real property," Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said. "We have already started putting processes in place to further strengthen our controls, and are developing a long-term facility plan to ensure that decisions are consistent with the company's strategic goals."
According to the audit, in a call-center based in Philadelphia, "the vacancy rate will increase over the next few years as customers increasingly use the company's website and mobile applications, and the need for live telephone agents decreases."
At two Amtrak facilities in Boston, "one office was almost three times the specified standards," and in another location five workers occupied 3,330 square-feet of office space, or about 660 square feet per person.
Amtrak, the report says, "has this excess space in part because, in the absence of a long-term facility plan, the company did not allocate sufficient time to explore and coordinate alternatives."
The report says that Amtrak can avoid the willy-nilly office acquisition process by developing a long-term plan, developing a better sense of what it has and what it needs, and getting on top of staff fluctuations in various cities.
Amtrak provides passenger rail service to about 500 stations in 46 states and three Canadian provinces. In 2017, it carried almost 32 million passengers.
This article was written by Ashley Halsey, a reporter for The Washington Post.