Federal Courthouse Construction:

More Disciplined Approach Would Reduce Costs and Provide for Better Decisionmaking

T-GGD-96-19: Published: Nov 8, 1995. Publicly Released: Nov 8, 1995.

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GAO discussed the General Services Administration's (GSA) courthouse construction initiative, focusing on: (1) the GSA approach for meeting federal courthouse needs; (2) controls over courthouse construction design and costs; and (3) efforts to improve the initiative. GAO noted that: (1) although GSA and the judiciary have processes to identify courthouse needs, they have not developed a strategic capital investment plan that identifies project funding needs and sets priorities among competing projects; (2) historically, GSA and the judiciary have made hasty decisions affecting construction design and costs that have resulted in overspending and inconsistent design; (3) GSA and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC) have taken actions to improve the courthouse construction initiative and prioritize construction projects; and (4) Congress has attempted to control the cost of courthouse projects by introducing legislation to improve the identification and justification of high-priority courthouse projects.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Congress should provide initial funding for projects only after they have been prioritized and authorizing committees have evaluated and approved them.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: GAO has seen no evidence to suggest Congress will only fund projects that have been prioritized and approved by authorizing committees.

    Matter: Congress should fully fund projects only after well-defined cost estimates have been developed.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: GAO has seen no evidence to suggest that Congress will implement this recommendation.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help promote and ensure the effective implementation of actions under way to improve the overall management and oversight of the courthouse construction initiative, the Administrator, GSA, and the Director, AOUSC, should work together to establish specific measures for assessing the progress of the actions taken and evaluating their overall effectiveness.

    Agency Affected: Congress

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOUSC has made some changes to improve courthouse construction, such as, revising its design guide for new construction. However, AOC has been resistant to change, in general, and implement the recommendations. It is GAO's view, since almost four years have passed, that a followup job will be needed to assess the AOC's changes and to what extent the recommendations have been implemented.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, GSA, and the Director, AOUSC, should establish a mechanism to monitor and assess the use of the flexible design guidance with a view toward striking a better balance in the choices made about courthouse design, including features and finishes.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GSA initiated a series of monthly meetings with AOUSC and the Courts Management Group. Progress of the 5-year construction plan, project management, cost containment, and partnering were among the major topics. GSA also reports that it is continuing to work with AOUSC in improving the process for identifying and delivering courthouse construction projects. The revised U.S. Courts Design Guide, issued December 19, 1997, provides that the interiors of courthouses must be selected from a limited palette of finishes that responds to construction-cost limitations, optimizes life-cycle costs, and satisfies the functional requirements selected for each project. An assessment of the features and finishes in new federal courthouses will be included in Post Occupancy Evaluations (POE). POE studies will be conducted 2-3 years after occupancy.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, GSA, and the Director, AOUSC, should establish a mechanism to monitor and assess the use of the flexible design guidance with a view toward striking a better balance in the choices made about courthouse design, including features and finishes.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOUSC has made some changes to improve courthouse construction, such as, revising its design guide for new construction. However, AOC has been resistant to change, in general, and implement the recommendations. It is GAO's view, since almost four years have passed, that a followup job will be needed to assess the AOC's changes and to what extent the recommendations have been implemented.

    Recommendation: To help promote and ensure the effective implementation of actions under way to improve the overall management and oversight of the courthouse construction initiative, the Administrator, GSA, and the Director, AOUSC, should work together to develop timetables for monitoring progress, evaluating effectiveness, and institutionalizing results.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOUSC has made some changes to improve courthouse construction, such as, revising its design guide for new construction. However, AOC has been resistant to change, in general, and implement the recommendations. It is GAO's view, since almost four years have passed, that a followup job will be needed to assess the AOC's changes and to what extent the recommendations have been implemented.

    Recommendation: To help promote and ensure the effective implementation of actions under way to improve the overall management and oversight of the courthouse construction initiative, the Administrator, GSA, and the Director, AOUSC, should work together to develop timetables for monitoring progress, evaluating effectiveness, and institutionalizing results.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOUSC has made some changes to improve courthouse construction, such as, revising its design guide for new construction. However, AOC has been resistant to change, in general, and implement the recommendations. It is GAO's view, since almost four years have passed, that a followup job will be needed to assess the AOC's changes and to what extent the recommendations have been implemented.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, GSA, and the Director, AOUSC, should work together to complete and effectively implement a capital investment plan that identifies, fully justifies, and sets priorities among needed projects and lays out all known needed projects in a long-term strategic context, including the specific rationale and criteria used for identifying each of the higher priority projects and the estimated funding needed to design and construct the projects.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOUSC has made some changes to improve courthouse construction, such as, revising its design guide for new construction. However, AOC has been resistant to change, in general, and implement the recommendations. It is GAO's view, since almost four years have passed, that a followup job will be needed to assess the AOC's changes and to what extent the recommendations have been implemented.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, GSA, and the Director, AOUSC, should work together to clearly define project scope and refine construction cost estimates before requesting project approval and final funding levels.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOUSC has made some changes to improve courthouse construction, such as, revising its design guide for new construction. However, AOC has been resistant to change, in general, and implement the recommendations. It is GAO's view, since almost four years have passed, that a followup job will be needed to assess the AOC's changes and to what extent the recommendations have been implemented.

    Recommendation: To help promote and ensure the effective implementation of actions under way to improve the overall management and oversight of the courthouse construction initiative, the Administrator, GSA, and the Director, AOUSC, should work together to establish specific measures for assessing the progress of the actions taken and evaluating their overall effectiveness.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOUSC has made some changes to improve courthouse construction, such as, revising its design guide for new construction. However, AOC has been resistant to change, in general, and implement the recommendations. It is GAO's view, since almost four years have passed, that a followup job will be needed to assess the AOC's changes and to what extent the recommendations have been implemented.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, GSA, and the Director, AOUSC, should work together to establish and effectively implement a systematic and ongoing project oversight and evaluation process to compare and contrast courthouse projects, identify opportunities for reducing cost, and communicate and apply lessons learned to ongoing and future projects.

    Agency Affected: Congress

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOUSC has made some changes to improve courthouse construction, such as, revising its design guide for new construction. However, AOC has been resistant to change, in general, and implement the recommendations. It is GAO's view, since almost four years have passed, that a followup job will be needed to assess the AOC's changes and to what extent the recommendations have been implemented.

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