Republicans on the House Transportation panel traveled to Los Angeles as part of their campaign to pressure the General Services Administration to sell excess federal buildings faster, but a field hearing on Friday examining plans for a new courthouse was dominated by complaints about witnesses who did not attend.
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on public buildings, had called the hearing to explore GSA’s “plan to needlessly build a new $400 million courthouse and create another empty federal building.”
As a setting, Denham chose the Edward R. Roybal Courthouse, which was built in 1993 to supplement the city’s Spring Street Courthouse, which would be abandoned if GSA builds a third new courthouse. GSA, according to Denham, already has spent $60 million on acquisition and planning for the new project and plans to pay another $340 million in construction. The Government Accountability Office has asserted that the current roster of L.A. judges could be accommodated in the existing Roybal building.
But the decision of several invited witnesses to take a pass angered Denham. “I am … disappointed that GSA’s acting administrator [Dan Tangherlini] has yet again chosen not to appear at our hearing,” Denham said. “Neither Mr. Tangherlini nor anyone from GSA’s headquarters showed up for the committee’s hearing on the wasteful spending unearthed in yet more GSA conferences and exorbitant bonuses.”
Denham was equally disappointed at the absence of court representatives. “It’s even more troubling many of them found time to attend a conference in Maui this week, but are not available to testify today to justify spending another $340 million of taxpayer funds,” he said. “After all the waste this committee has exposed on lavish conferences and training sessions, it is mind-boggling the courts would host a conference in Maui that reportedly is costing the taxpayer more than $1.1 million -- significantly more than the lavish Las Vegas conference hosted by GSA -- with a total of 2,760 ‘room nights’ in ocean-view suites and at least one ‘palace’ suite.”
Representing GSA was Kevin Richards, acting regional commissioner for the Public Buildings Service’s Pacific Rim Region. In prepared testimony, he said, “GSA and the courts are well under way in moving forward with the plan to complete the new courthouse in Los Angeles within the current appropriation to help the courts meet their mission needs, with an award expected later this year. Los Angeles will have a secure, state-of-the-art courthouse, helping improve court functions and services, while keeping tenants and the visiting public safe. Additionally, we look forward to the disposal through exchange of the historic courthouse at 312 North Spring Street, allowing for backfill of costly leases and avoidance of ongoing maintenance and renovation costs.”
Mark Goldstein, GAO’s director of physical infrastructure issues, testified that the watchdog agency in 2010 had found more than a quarter of the new courthouse space was unneeded and implied that GSA’s data were outdated. “If the L.A. courthouse project were reevaluated,” he said, “it is not clear that it would retain the same high-priority status from when it was first justified in 2000.”