GAO: Judiciary Estimate for Courthouse Construction Cost Off by $2.3 Billion

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will hold a hearing today to review a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on whether the building of additional federal courthouses is justified.

The Judiciary’s 5-year Courthouse Project Plan lists 12 projects that it estimates will cost taxpayers $1 billion. However, the GAO is expected to report that estimate is wildly inaccurate and that true costs will be over $3.2 billion.

Experts say the Judiciary currently makes poor use of the 446 federal courthouses already in existence. A 2008 study by the Federal Judicial Center (FJC) found that active district judge courtrooms are scheduled to be used an average of just 4.1 hours a day, 2 hours a day for senior judge courtrooms, and 2.6 hours a day for magistrate judge courtrooms. 

2010 GAO study examining 33 courthouses found that a lack of sharing of courtrooms, overblown future judge projections, and constructions above the Congressionally approved size resulted in the wasting of $835 million in taxpayer money to build 3.56 million extra square feet of unnecessary space.

For these reasons, the GAO is expected to recommend a construction moratorium to gain greater transparency into why the General Services Administration (GSA) and its tenant, Judiciary, have requested the construction of superfluous space.

Government watchdog groups and others say that the doling out of lucrative real estate and construction contracts to Washington cronies, unions, and campaign contributors has led to billions in unnecessary taxpayer spending in Washington D.C.

"We spend about $8 billion a year maintaining properties that we have no use for,” says Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). “That $8 billion is just thrown down the drain.”

Currently, the U.S. government owns or leases an estimated 55,000 to 77,000 empty buildings. No one knows the exact number because the federal government has failed to keep an inventory of them.

Photo credit: Dtobias/Wikimedia Commons


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