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Building projects slow to a trickle

Jun. 19, 2011 - 05:38PM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
The 2011 federal budget passed by Congress in April gutted construction budgets at virtually all agencies.
The 2011 federal budget passed by Congress in April gutted construction budgets at virtually all agencies. (File photo / Getty Images)

Lancaster, Pa., has been waiting nearly six years for a promised $27 million federal courthouse. Until then, whenever south-central Pennsylvania residents and officials have business in federal court to tend to, they must drive two hours to the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia or Allentown, Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray said.

Last month, the General Services Administration told Gray the courthouse project was canceled. "I am still at a loss to explain how these decisions are made," Gray said.

The 35,000-square-foot courthouse is one of the many projects being scuttled or scaled down across government because of drastic budget cuts.

The 2011 federal budget passed by Congress in April gutted construction budgets at virtually all agencies, and 2012 looks to continue that trend. The agency with the biggest construction budget, GSA, saw funding for new construction plummet 91 percent from 2010 to 2011. Its budget for renovations was also severely cut.

GSA would not comment on canceled projects, saying it is still finalizing plans for how it will adjust to its budget.

GSA is also canceling or delaying other projects, including:

The $174 million consolidation of the Food and Drug Administration in White Oak, Md. The project will be delayed at least a year past its scheduled 2015 completion date.

The purchase of a $25 million IRS annex in Martinsburg, W.Va. GSA already rents the space for the agency.

Construction of new land ports of entry in Calexico, Calif., and Calais, Maine. The projects total $86 million and would have been completed in 2014.

A $4 million design of a proposed secured FBI parking garage at the P.V. McNamara Federal Building in Detroit.

The $66 million renovation of the Maj. Gen. Emmett J. Bean Federal Center in Indianapolis.

The $11 million redesign and renovation of the James C. Corman Federal Building in Van Nuys, Calif.

The $23 million renovation of the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse in Washington.

The $51 million renovation of the Los Angeles federal building and FBI parking garage.

The $22 million first phase of a multiphase redesign and renovation of the Frank Hagel Federal Building in Richmond, Calif.

Ironically, now that Congress has dealt steep cuts to GSA's construction budget, some lawmakers are privately asking for help from construction firms and trade associations to lobby GSA and Congress to reinstate some of that money for renovation projects in their districts, said Brian Turmail, spokesman for the Association General Contractors of America.

"Everyone liked the idea of cutting the federal budget, but no one wanted to see that bridge repair stopped or renovations to that old federal courthouse canceled," Turmail said.

"The irony is these cuts will only cost taxpayers more in the long run, since it is far cheaper to maintain buildings and other types of infrastructure than it is to fix them once they are broken," he said.

Andrew Goldberg, senior director of federal relations at the American Institute of Architects, said future budgets will be just as bad.

GSA's $5.5 billion in appropriations under the Recovery Act passed in 2009 is being used as justification for small budgets in the future, he said. "What we are hearing from people in Congress is, ‘Well, they got a lot of money in the stimulus so they are good for the time being,' " Goldberg said.

But GSA is not alone. The National Institutes of Standards and Technology saw its construction budget cut 68 percent below last year's level. Much of the cuts were reductions in its grant construction program for research facilities at universities.

The cuts also will force a one-year delay in the renovation of NIST's main laboratory facility in Boulder, Colo. The renovation was going to make the building more energy efficient, expand laboratory space and upgrade facilities first built in the 1950s, according to NIST spokesman Ben Stein.

Congress also made large cuts to the Homeland Security Department's $3.4 billion headquarters project in Southeast Washington that will cause the department to miss its 2016 completion date. The House-passed 2012 DHS appropriations bill includes no funding for the project. The Obama administration, which sought $160 million for the project, said the House bill, if approved by Congress, would delay the headquarters project by at least two years, resulting in increased construction costs and increased lease costs.

The FBI's $107 million construction budget this year is less than half of what it received in 2010. That will sideline the bureau's plans to renovate and expand its training academy in Quantico, Va.

The U.S. Marshals Service received funding for the installation and relocation of security equipment and telecommunications systems. It did not receive any funds for construction of prisoner holding and related support in already occupied spaces.

With the cancellation of the NASA's Constellation space program, that agency has stopped renovations and new construction on research buildings and facilities related to that program.

The Defense Department saw cuts of $547 million, forcing it to delay some projects into next year.

The Army Corps of Engineers lost $238 million from its construction budget, delaying some flood control projects.

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