House appropriators aren’t happy that the General Services Administration’s $676-million fiscal 2011 budget request to construct new federal buildings doesn’t include money for any courthouse projects.

GSA Criticized for Lack of FY11 Court Projects

Members of the House financial services and general government subcommittee made their views clear at an April 28 hearing on GSA’s budget. “It’s a shame that the request came the way it came,” subcommittee Chairman José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) told GSA Administrator Martha N. Johnson. “You put us in a difficult situation when you don’t ask,” he added.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said the Fort Lauderdale courthouse has problems. She said judges there have run out of space, and the building “leaks like a sieve.” Rep. F. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) added that the Panama City, Fla., courthouse should be replaced.

GSA’s Johnson told the panel the agency has seven courthouse projects in the works funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Those ARRA projects include a courthouse in Austin, Texas, which Johnson said had been the top item on the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts’ list of priority projects. But Serrano said Congress intended ARRA money to supplement, not supplant, regular appropriations.

Johnson agreed ARRA funds should not replace appropriations, but she cited other “pressing needs” in GSA’s buildings portfolio. The budget seeks $380 million for a Dept. of Homeland Security headquarters and related work.

Andrew Goldberg, the American Institute of Architects’ senior director for federal affairs, says it’s possible the Appropriations Committee may add courthouse funding in its 2011 bill. Serrano told ENR, “I think there’s a sense in the committee that we have to look at that. … I think as we put the budget together, there’s going to be a nudging from many members to do something about it. ”

Goldberg says, “The question then is, what goes if [court funding] goes in?”

Congress doesn’t rubber-stamp agencies’ budget proposals. In fiscal 2010, GSA requested $53 million for two courthouse projects; appropriators approved $289.4 million for six courthouses. Lawmakers’ largest addition was $211 million for a Salt Lake City facility.

If appropriators provide courthouse money in 2011, they could refer to the federal judiciary’s five-year plan. The courts’ 2011 priorities include $140.3 million to help construct a Mobile, Ala., courthouse; $173.5 million in site, design and construction funds for a Nashville, Tenn., courthouse; $95.5 million for a Savannah, Ga., facility; and $38.6 million for a San Jose, Calif., court’s site cost.

CourtHOUSE funding
FY 2010 (funded) FY 2011 (possible) FY 2012 (possible)
Mobile, Ala.* Mobile, Ala.* San Antonio*
Savannah, Ga. Nashville Charlotte, N.C.
Greenbelt, Md. Savannah, Ga. Greenville, S.C.
Lancaster, Pa. San Jose, Calif.* Harrisburg
San Antonio* San Jose, Calif.*
Salt Lake City
Sources: OMB, GSA, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. *site, design or constructioN Phases