Oops! Feds Underestimate Court Project by $2 Billion
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A massive project to construct federal courts is mired in secrecy and will cost U.S. taxpayers billions more than originally estimated by the agency that continues to unscrupulously get checks from Congress for the deals.
Just what Americans want to hear in the midst of a financial crisis and record unemployment! It involves a five-year plan to construct courthouses in various parts of the country. The Federal Judiciary and the General Services Administration (GSA) are in charge of the multibillion-dollar project, which has been slowed down by “fiscal challenges,” according to a federal audit released this week. That’s putting it mildly.
For example the Federal Judiciary told Congress that 12 courthouse projects would cost around $1 billion when in fact it will take a whopping $3.2 billion to finish the job. This means that the project masters likely planned to squeeze the extra $2.2 billion out of Congress mid construction, when lawmakers had little choice but to allocate the funds for completion. The audit, conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), flat out says that the document the judiciary uses to request money for courthouse construction projects “lacks transparency and key information” about their “cost.”
There is an official process that must be followed when the judiciary requests taxpayer dollars for these kinds of projects, which are known as capital planning. The goal, as it should be government-wide, is accountability and justification of proposed projects. In this case, 10 of the 12 courthouse projects would not even qualify for new construction under the court system’s own planning standards.
Evidently, that’s why the big brass at the judiciary concealed information from Congress and the American people. “The five-year plan submitted for approval of several billion dollars worth of projects — a one-page list of projects with limited and incomplete information — does not support the judiciary’s request for courthouse construction projects,” the GAO writes in its report.
This is not the first time that the Federal Judiciary gets blasted for its egregious spending sprees. Just last month the GAO issued a scathing report saying that the judiciary exceeded its congressionally authorized allotment for new courthouse space by 3.56 million square feet. This cost American taxpayers $835 million, according to the GAO, and an additional $51 million a year to rent, operate and maintain the facilities.
The problem had actually been identified years earlier in a separate federal audit, but the judiciary went full-throttle with the wasteful projects. In fact, in 2010 the GAO determined that 27 of 33 courthouses completed since 2000 exceeded their congressionally authorized size by a total of 1.7 million square feet. Instead of cutting back, the problem only got worse.
This week’s GAO report blasts the judiciary, albeit in a very diplomatic way, for lying to Congress to keep its monstrous courthouse construction project going. “As a result, there is a risk that congressional funding decisions could be made without complete and accurate information,” the report says.