Mr. DENHAM. Mr. Chairman, this is a very simple amendment. This simply just prevents the funds from being used to divert vital resources to an unneeded Federal courthouse in Los Angeles.
I have the distinct privilege of chairing the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings & Emergency Management. In that capacity, I have oversight over the Federal courts.
The last Congress, at the request of this subcommittee, the GAO completed a review of the 33 courthouses constructed between 2000 and 2010. What the GAO found was incredible. GSA has built over 3.5 million square feet of courthouse space that we don't need--at a cost of $800 million. As a result, the Judiciary abandoned existing courthouses across the country and severely underutilizes every single new courthouse.
The GAO identified three reasons:
First of all, when GSA is not busy taking vacations in Las Vegas, they continue to build bigger courthouses than Congress authorizes.
The Acting CHAIR. The gentleman will suspend.
Would the gentleman clarify which amendment he offered: Amendment No. 27 printed in the Record or the amendment at the desk?
Mr. DENHAM. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
As I was saying, the GAO identified three different reasons:
GSA continues to build courthouses bigger than what Congress authorizes. Congress authorizes one thing, but then GSA goes out and builds not only something completely different, but much bigger and at much greater expense.
Number two, we don't have the judges that were once proposed.
Third, judges don't share courtrooms. These courtrooms get used about 2 hours a day, and we don't have any courtroom sharing across the Nation.
We could be utilizing these courthouses quite a bit more than what they are today. As a result, we demanded that the judiciary conduct a real courtroom-sharing study so that a third party can figure out how many judges are needed. And over the last 11 years, the judiciary projected there would be somewhere between 72 and 81 judges in L.A. by 2011.
The judiciary declared L.A. the number one judicial space emergency in the United States and proposed a massive, huge new courthouse. However, today we know the primary justification for an L.A. courthouse was wrong. There are fewer judges in L.A. today than there were in 1997. Today we have two buildings with 61 courtrooms and 59 judges. We have 61 courtrooms and only 59 judges, no courtroom sharing, being utilized less than 2 hours a day.
In that light, I have asked GSA to stop its plans to spend $400 million on a courthouse in Los Angeles. GSA has told me explicitly that they will continue with the project at whatever cost. After building a $400 million courthouse, we will have 85 courthouses and 59 judges, 85 courtrooms and 59 judges.
All of these judges--not only do we need less courtrooms, we don't need to build the one that we currently are proposing to build. You could put all of these judges in one courthouse, sell off the other courthouse, and never build the one that's being proposed at $400 million.
We've seen this before at least seven times in other cities where new courthouses were built and the old ones sit vacant today, a burden to the taxpayer and eyesores to the community. There's a big courthouse in Miami, sitting vacant. One being redone in New York, vacant. And yet we want to spend $400 million on something we don't need in Los Angeles.
I personally toured the L.A. courthouse facilities and found there's vacant space currently not being used in both the Roybal building as well as the Spring Street building. GAO ran a centralized sharing model for L.A. and found that all the judges could fit in the Roybal building alone.
This country has a $15 trillion debt, and GSA continues to waste millions of dollars on projects that no one needs. What we do need is to move everybody into the Roybal building, get rid of the vacant space, and sell off the other courthouse. At a time like this, we should be utilizing the best use of taxpayer dollars.
This is why I introduced the Civilian Property Realignment Act, to get this out of the hands of the legislature, to make sure that we are actually selling off properties we don't need.
We've sold 82 properties over the last decade, and we have 14,000 that are sitting on the vacant list. We can do a much better job, but it starts right here with the L.A. courthouse. Before we can sell off the things that we don't need, we ought to stop building the things that we don't need. Sell off the property. We can create jobs by letting the private sector go there and build something to get out of a lot of the lease space that we have in the L.A. area.
I ask my colleagues to support my amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time. [Page: H2540]
Mr. FATTAH. As best as I could determine, this prohibits the spending of funds; no funds would be expended under this fiscal year. So I know that the gentleman is quite energized about this, but I think it is better handled in the authorizing committees since he has legislation, and that hopefully will one day get passed and signed into law to deal with this.
If the Congress could manage buildings and deal with the utilization, you know, the Capitol Visitor Center, I mean, we can go through a whole laundry list of our own. We spend a lot of time criticizing other agencies--the GSA for conferences. You should look at what we spend. I mean, you could go through it. We could point fingers forever.
I would rather see, rather than curse the darkness, that we light a candle. We're trying to finish an appropriations bill. I'm in opposition of this amendment because it prohibits the use of funds spent on employees in a courthouse that won't have any employees this year.
I yield back the balance of my time.