WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Jeff Denham, chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, will hold a hearing tomorrow to focus on the current justification of a third courthouse in Los Angeles and the cost implications of the entire courthouse complex in Los Angeles.
For many years, the Judicial Conference has declared the L.A. courthouse complex as in need of more space, primarily because of lack of capacity and security concerns, according to a news release from Denham's office These needs were based on projections that new judges would be authorized to use the space; however, the projected increase in judges has not occurred and since that time, serious questions have been raised by the GAO on the accuracy of the projection models used by the Judicial Conference, the news release said. The number of judges in L.A. has, in fact, decreased since 2000. In addition, the Judicial Conference has since adopted courtroom sharing policies for senior, magistrate, and bankruptcy judges that would result in the need for significantly less courtrooms than originally contemplated.
“This is a prime example of government waste. Ten years ago, $400 million was appropriated for a building that still doesn’t exist, to house federal judges that don’t exist. This vacant lot in downtown LA could be sold and used for private sector growth to create jobs,” said Denham said in the release.
The proposal for a new courthouse in Los Angeles was originally submitted to the committee as a part of GSA’s FY 2001 Capital Investment Program. At that time, the project was expected to cost $266 million. In 2004, the costs increased to $399 million. Since 2001, Congress has appropriated $400 million for the new courthouse, and the last appropriated funds were in 2005.
GSA’s current budget for construction has been significantly reduced in the 112th Congress. The pending House version of the Financial Services Appropriations bill for FY 2012, which includes funding for GSA, recommends no construction funding in FY 2012. As a result, it is extremely critical that GSA prioritize existing construction dollars. If GSA spends the available funds on a 24 courtroom courthouse as proposed, the L.A. courthouse would have more space than necessary, among three courthouses.
Throughout the duration of the 112th Congress, Denham and the Subcommittee have been working to eliminate the kind of wasted government space that the proposed LA courthouse project would create, the news release continued. He introduced H.R. 1734, the “Civilian Property Realignment Act” (CPRA), which would employ a BRAC-like process for civilian properties, reduce the federal footprint and save taxpayers billions of dollars. This cost saving initiative would achieve a reduction in the size of the federal real property inventory through selling or redeveloping underutilized properties, increasing the utilization rates of existing properties, and expending the disposal of surplus properties. Further, the Committee added a provision in the BRAC bill that would cancel the L.A. courthouse project, and it passed the Transportation Committee on October 13, 2011. The legislation is awaiting floor action in the House. And, on October 21, Chairman Denham and Subcommittee Ranking Member Norton co-signed a letter to GSA urging that they not proceed with the L.A. courthouse pending submission of a new proposal and a new authorization.
According to the news release, GAO has found that there are a staggering number of underutilized courthouses across the country. In 2010, the GAO concluded that 3.56 million square feet of extra space was built in courthouses over the last decade, costing the taxpayer $835 million plus $51 million annually in operating costs. Chairman Denham and the Committee are concerned that the L.A. courthouse will join the ranks of these underutilized buildings, and the panel on Friday will discuss the appropriate size and scope necessary for the LA courthouse complex.