By Leisa Zigman I-Team Reporter
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - Would you ever hire a contractor who couldn't read a tape measure or stay within your size limits? You already have, and it has cost you millions of dollars.
A government report reveals the Thomas F. Eagleton Federal Courthouse in downtown St. Louis is the most over built courthouse in the nation. The building dominates the St. Louis skyline. At 557 feet, it is the tallest courthouse in the country and the first built using the metric system.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) Infrastructure Director is Mark Goldstein. He said, "It's ranked as being the most overbuilt."
In fact, auditors with the GAO consider it a poster child for federal mismanagement.A report from the GAO first published in 2010 andupdated again a few weeks ago, said the courthouse was overbuilt by 400,000 square feet.
Taxpayers found it to be crazy, disgusting, and said it needed to be changed.
The GAO report says not only did the wasted space at Eagleton cost you, the taxpayer, an additional $88 million, it continues to cost you nearly $3 million per year to operate and maintain all that extra space.
PDF:2010 GAO report
"They simply ignored or did not follow space requirements that congress authorized," said Goldstein.
The GAO claims common space in the Eagleton courthouse is 77 percent larger than planned, with two elevator shafts built, but never used. The report said the judiciary did a poor job predicting how many judges it would need over time.
The report also said the courthouse ended up getting an additional 76,000 feet of space to house nine judges that never materialized.
The General Services Administration (GSA), the federal branch responsible for building courthouses, would not talk to the I-Team on camera but we did receive a tour. The GSA also sent a statement, telling us Eagleton is 96 percent occupied.
In a published report responding to criticism, the GSA called the GAO findings misleading and tried to show that GAO auditors were the ones who couldn't count. Right now both agencies are pointing fingers at the other. But the GAO is the auditing and investigatory arm of Congress charged with making sure taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently.
It's not just the Eagleton Courthouse. A few weeks ago, GAO asked Congress to put the brakes on all new courthouse construction blaming the GSA with poor planning and oversight. From 2000 until 2010, the GAO says 32 courthouses constructed nationwide were built bigger than Congress authorized costing tax payers an extra $835 million.
One historic Miami courthouse was abandoned, while GSA built a new one. The new facility is so big, courtrooms sit unfinished. An atrium and other spaces were not properly approved.
The GAO didn't look at whether the government's use of the metric system is part of the problem when it comes to over-building Eagleton and the other courthouses.
PDF:Updated 2013 report
Off camera, supporters and admirers of Eagleton point out the prominent downtown landmark is more efficient because it now combines all St. Louis based federal court operations in a single building.
The GSA says it's under new leadership and is reviewing new construction costs. But it said it will not agree to a moratorium.
The agency might not have a choice since congress holds the purse strings.
Statement from Jason Klumb, GSA Regional Administrator:
"We appreciate the GAO's review of federal courthouse space. GSA is committed to maximizing the value of our real estate, reducing energy usage, and shrinking the federal footprint moving forward.
"The Eagleton Courthouse is 96 percent occupied. We have reduced energy usage by 25.7 percent since 2003. The building earned an Energy Star rating in 2009.
"The Eagleton Courthouse was planned 20 years ago, and we are a different agency than we were. GSA is committed to staying within congressional approvals for size and cost and is looking at the most cost-effective options to meet the needs of the courts moving forward."