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L.A. Courthouse Project Unnecessary According to Government Accountability Office

Denham Subcommittee Hearing Investigates waste in federal court system

November 4, 2011

Washington, DC – Congressman Denham, Chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, held a hearing this morning focusing on the vast amount of waste in our country’s federal court system. Specifically, the hearing was to provide oversight over the construction of a third courthouse in Los Angeles, California, which was found unnecessary by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and testified to at today’s hearing.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that there are a number of underutilized courthouses across the country in states such as, New York, Florida, Washington, D.C. and more. In 2010, the GAO concluded that over the last decade, 3.56 million square feet of unneeded space was built in courthouses, wasting $835 million taxpayer dollars plus $51 million annually in operating costs. In a testimony specific to the courthouse project Los Angeles today, the GAO testified that the 3rd courthouse is unnecessary. In fact, all the judges projected by GSA, could fit in one courthouse according to their sharing model based on GSA figures.

“There are fewer judges in Los Angeles now than there were when the project was first proposed—over 20 years ago,” said Chairman Denham. “In a time when Congressional leaders are scrambling to find ways to reduce our $14.3 deficit, the government should look at the buildings that it owns and identify the tens of thousands of empty buildings it doesn’t need. I have introduced the Civilian Property Realignment Act to ensure the sale or consolidation of these properties whose upkeep and management has cost the taxpayer for too long.”

In 2000, the Judicial Conference claimed the L.A. courthouse complex was in need of more space, primarily because of lack of capacity and security concerns. 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. The number of judges in L.A. has, in fact, decreased since 2000. In 2004, they projected 81 judges and today they have 59. Today there are two buildings with 61 courtrooms and only 59 judges. 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.

Mark Goldstein, Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues, GAO, testified to the results of recent GAO reports, which found that the addition of a third courthouse to the L.A. courthouse complex would exceed the needs of their judicial system. The GAO report has found this type of waste in courthouses across the country. Goldstein stated, “GAO found that the proposed courthouse was designed to provide courtrooms to accommodate the judiciary’s estimate of 61 district and magistrate judges in the L.A. Court by 2011 – which, as of October 2011, exceeds the actual number of such judges by 14. This disparity calls into question the space assumptions on which the original proposals were based. Third, the L.A. court was planning for less courtroom sharing than is possible.”

“While in 2008 the judiciary favored an option proposed by GSA that provided for some sharing by senior judges, according to GAO’s 2010 analysis, there is enough unscheduled time in courtrooms for three senior judges to share one courtroom, two magistrate judges to share one courtroom, and three district judges to share two courtrooms,” Goldstein continued. “In 2011, the judiciary also approved sharing for bankruptcy judges. Additional courtroom sharing could reduce the number of additional courtrooms needed for the L.A. courthouse, thereby increasing the potential options for housing the L.A. court.”

Additionally, 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 not be fully utilized, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.

Chairman Denham has lead the Subcommittee in its efforts to eliminate waste in our government by reducing our federal footprint. Vacant and unused properties exists all over our country and Congressman Denham has introduced the Civilian Property Realignment Act (H.R. 1734) to take politics out of the way in order to streamline the process for sale or consolidation of these properties and save taxpayer dollars.

More information on today’s hearing, including witness testimony, can be found here.

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