Denham Takes GSA Investigation to Florida

Aug 6, 2012 Issues: Government Waste

Miami, FL – U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), Chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), Chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee, today held a Subcommittee field hearing in Florida to highlight the ongoing investigation to stop the federal government from wasting billions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money by sitting on its assets and badly mismanaging valuable federally-owned properties.

The Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee conducts oversight of the General Services Administration (GSA).  This agency, now known for its lavish Las Vegas conferences, exorbitant employee bonuses, and other scandals, also serves as the landlord of the federal government.

To highlight the pervasive waste, fraud and abuse at GSA, Mica and Denham convened the Subcommittee hearing in an empty downtown Miami federal building and courthouse on prime real estate, which has been vacant for nearly five years and costing taxpayers $1.2 million annually.

“GSA is notorious for its Vegas hot tubber, junkets to the South Pacific, and ludicrous bonuses that cost millions of dollars, but this agency and the federal government waste billions of dollars sitting on empty and underused buildings,” Mica said.

“I am continuing to call attention to the outrageous losses on federally-owned assets with incredible but squandered potential to generate revenue,” Mica continued.  “Today’s hearing in an empty federal building in Florida continues our year-and-a-half campaign to turn federally-owned properties, sitting idle for years and bleeding the taxpayers by the millions, into productive assets.”

“It seems GSA only takes action when we hold hearings. And even then they are habitually unable or unwilling to provide the Committee with important answers we need to provide effective oversight,” said Denham.  “Just last week, the GSA failed to provide the Committee with a legal justification for why they entered into a $350 million lease without authorization from Congress, ignoring 40 years of precedent. It is inconceivable to think that an agency that wastes taxpayer dollars on lavish conferences and exorbitant bonuses would be able to bind the taxpayer to billion dollar leases without any oversight.”

Denham and Committee leaders have held hearings since the beginning of 2011 in three valuable but empty and underutilized federal buildings in Washington, DC.  Today’s hearing at the David W. Dyer Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Miami is the first field hearing to highlight vacant and underutilized federal properties across the country.

The next field hearing will be in Los Angeles on August 17th to highlight an unnecessary and wasteful courthouse construction project, which will result in another empty federal building.

By calling these hearings, Reps. Mica and Denham have forced GSA into long-delayed positive action on these assets.

The Old Post Office Annex, an historic building just a few blocks from the White House, sat vacant for more than decade, draining the U.S. Treasury of $6.5 million per year.  After the Committee called two hearings at the site, GSA finally announced a private developer for the valuable but wasted property.

The Cotton Annex, an empty 89,000 square-foot building at a highly desirable site just one block from the National Mall in Washington, sat vacant for five years.  After the Committee held a hearing there, GSA announced it would examine how to reuse or sell the property.

The Old Georgetown Plant, located on more than two acres of some of the most valuable real estate on the East Coast, sat vacant for 11 years, costing the taxpayers $3.5 million.  GSA put a “for sale” sign up on the building one day before the Committee’s hearing.

After the Committee announced today’s hearing in Florida at the Dyer Courthouse, which has been sitting vacant for years, GSA on Thursday announced that it is soliciting ideas for the property.

“It appears the only time GSA proposes to sell or redevelop property is when this Subcommittee holds a field hearing,” Denham continued. “If I knew it was that easy, we would have held hearings daily around the country at the 14,000 sites currently wasting taxpayers over $1.7 billion annually.”

“If we have to have a hearing at every empty building in the country in order to get GSA to stop wasting money, we will do so,” Mica said.  “With 14,000 excess federal properties, this is four down and 13,996 to go.”

The Dyer Courthouse was vacated after GSA built a new courthouse in 2007, directly across the street.  The new courthouse was overbuilt by hundreds of thousands of square feet, at an excess cost of $49 million, in addition to $3.8 million in annual costs for maintenance and operation.  Furthermore, the new courthouse was built to accommodate nearly 20% more judges than it has.

After the construction of this overbuilt new courthouse for judges that don’t exist was completed five years ago, the 179,000 square foot Dyer courthouse has continued to sit empty, costing $1.2 million in operating costs (according to November 2011 data from the Federal Real Property Profile).