Deep within the massive new federal budget now before Congress is a little-noticed item that tells a lot about what's wrong with Washington. It's an item that shows how easy it is for budgetmakers to play games with the truth. And it shows how the cost of federal projects can quickly escalate.
We're referring to the part of the budget dealing with the new government office structure called the Federal Triangle Building, whose construction is under way at a site three blocks southeast of the White House.In the 1993 administrative budget, the L-shaped building, whose 1.3 million square feet of floor space will make it larger than any federal building except the Pentagon, is represented as a $250 million saving to the taxpayers. That's right, saving.
The claimed saving is supposed to reflect the decision of the Environmental Protection Agency to stop planning for a new building of its own and move into the Triangle Building instead.
But, of course, the Triangle Building won't save money. Rather, as federal auditors acknowledge, it will cost the taxpayers $2.4 billion over 30 years plus tens of millions more in interest charges.
The final price tag compares with the original estimate of only $362 million in 1987. What a difference a few years can make. Since 1987, the District of Columbia has gone from a shortage of office space to an excess supply. Currently, the city is glutted with 13 million square feet of unrented office space. Knight-Ridder News Service quotes real estate experts as saying the government could save perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars by forgetting about the new building under construction and moving into existing, unrented office space.
The federal establishment, however, knows far more about spending than it does about saving. Meanwhile, remember the Federal Triangle Building the next time Washington tries to insist the budget already has been pared to the bone and cannot possibly be cut further.