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GAO recommends a halt to 11 courthouse projects

Apr. 17, 2013 - 03:32PM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
Dorothy Robyn, public buildings commissioner at GSA, said the agency has shifted its focus to renovating old courthouses instead of building new ones, which saves money.
Dorothy Robyn, public buildings commissioner at GSA, said the agency has shifted its focus to renovating old courthouses instead of building new ones, which saves money. (Staff)

The General Services Administration should halt all 11 courthouse construction and renovation projects planned for the next five years to better review costs and space needs, the Government Accountability Office recommends.

The Judicial Conference of the United States, which proposed the projects, estimates the 11 projects would cost $1.1 billion, but the actual cost could be closer to $3.2 billion, Mark Goldstein, director of physical infrastructure issues at GAO, said Wednesday at a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The projects should be subjected to more rigorous cost analysis, he said. Otherwise, “congressional funding decisions could be made with incomplete or inaccurate information,” he said.

The courthouse projects the Judicial Conference recommended for 2014 include Mobile, Ala., Nashville, Tenn., Savannah, Ga., and Norfolk, Va. Only the Mobile project is in GSA’s fiscal 2014 budget request released last week., with the agency requesting $41 million for the large-scale renovation.

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said existing courthouses have excess space because the Judicial Conference has overestimated the number of judges. Judges should share courtrooms and GSA should build new courthouses with smaller space requirements, he said.

“We must save taxpayer dollars, and we must ensure new projects are truly needed and fully justified,” Shuster said.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said she would not approve another courthouse project unless it meets strict standards for smaller space requirements and is truly needed.

Dorothy Robyn, public buildings commissioner at GSA, said the agency has already shifted its focus to renovating old courthouses instead of building new ones, which saves money.

“I feel passionately about the need to preserve our historic courthouses and not just build shiny new ones,” Robyn said.

GSA said it approaches every project with rigorous oversight so the agency can build the appropriate facility. She said GSA has focused on courtroom-sharing, which she said will help reduce courthouse space in future projects.

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