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Our Expensive Federal Courthouses

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Federal Courthouse

The ornate atrium at a federal courthouse in Miami.

U.S. Government Accountability Office
Updated February 16, 2011

The construction of federal courthouses between 2000 and 2010 cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary spending because the federal courthouses were designed too large, according to the Government Accountability Office.

See more: Is It Illegal to Photograph Federal Buildings?

So how much did the government overspend on federal courthouse construction?

A whopping $835 million, according to the investigative arm of the Congress. And that's not including the estimated $51 million taxpayers shell out every year to rent, operate, and maintain those federal courthouses of the course of the decade.

9 Extra Federal Courthouses

The government completed 33 federal courthouses between 2000 and 2010, and the extra space amounted to 3.56 million square feet - roughly the equivalent of nine average-size federal courthouses, according to the GAO.

See more: Government Overspent on 7 Federal Courthouses

How did that happen?

Lack of oversight by the federal government, specifically the General Services Administration, the agency that overseas construction of federal courthouses, according to the GAO.

"There is no requirement to notify congressional committees about size overages," the GAO reported in 2010. "A lack of oversight by GSA, including not ensuring its space measurement policies were understood and followed and a lack of focus on building courthouses within the congressionally authorized size, contributed to these size overages."

How to Save on Federal Courthouses

The GAO said a very simple measure could save taxpayers millions of dollars. It's called sharing.

The government watchdog used the federal judiciary's own data to show that there was enough unscheduled time for "substantial" sharing of courtrooms in federal courthouses.

That simple act alone could have reduced the number of courtrooms needed at the 33 federal courthouses built between 2000 and 2010 by a stunning 40 percent, according to the GAO.

"Sharing could have reduced the number of courtrooms needed in courthouses built since 2000 by 126 courtrooms - about 40 percent of the total number - covering about 946,000 square feet of extra space," the GAO reported.

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