On The Money: Empty Lot Costs Taxpayers $400 Million

Taxpayers shelled out $400 million for an empty lot that’s been vacant for 10 years.
A California congressman calls it a prime example of government waste.

The prime real estate in downtown Los Angeles is supposed to be the future home of a new federal courthouse -– a courthouse that has never been built to utilize federal judges who don’t exist.

“We were basing the scope of this project on 81 judges,” noted Congressman Jeff Denham, a Republican from the Central Valley. Denham chairs the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Committee. He stated, “In 2011, this year, we have 59 judges.”

Denham grilled government bureaucrats over escalating costs for a non-existent building.

He told Robert Peck, a commissioner for the U.S. General Services Administration: “You’re changing the scope of the project. That’s the concern here.”

“No sir,” stated Peck.

A critical report by the Government Accounting Office found the majority of newly built federal courthouses nationwide were much bigger than authorized by Congress.

“The American taxpayer has no stomach for waste,” said Congresswoman Eleanor Norton during Friday’s hearing. The D.C. Democrat added, “Especially for waste on large courthouses.”

But one federal judge warned of security concerns in the current L.A. courthouses.

“As a result, judges frequently encounter prisoners as they are being unloaded and moved into the building,” said Margaret Morrow, a federal judge for the Central District of California.

Wary of costs, the General Services Administration (GAO) is now proposing a scaled down L.A. courthouse with 24 courtrooms. But Congressman Denham wants to sell the vacant lot and use the money to create jobs in the private sector.

So what happens now to the vacant lot?

The feds want to move forward on the courthouse -– but the GAO says Los Angeles already has two of them – making a third courthouse unnecessary.

If you see examples of government waste, send us an e-mail to onthemoney@kovr.com. You can also follow On The Money stories in progress via Twitter and via CBS13’s On The Money page on Facebook.

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