With an ongoing blank check approval of Congress and now the endorsement of President Clinton, construction goes on for a $1.2 billion pork barrel in downtown Washington, a genuine - if there ever was one - perpetual-motion machine of federal spending and waste.

Back in the mists of its beginning in the Reagan administration, it was to be a $362 million "crown jewel" of Pennsylvania Avenue, a grand "Cultural and Trade Center," a federal structure second only to the Pentagon in size, a palace of international trade, with offices, theaters and lecture halls, with shops and restaurants, and even a swimming pool, all the wonders of world economic, cultural and artistic achievement.Most of that talk was junked as inflated promise with no possibility of delivery.

But the construction goes on, still planned as the second-largest federal building ever put up with its principal purpose now to serve as another huge rookery for the federal bureaucracy.

The cost? Estimators of outlandish sums of money say the cost of completion of what's now known as the Federal Triangle Building has risen from the original $362 million to an estimated $1.2 billion. And it's climbing, with the end of construction now estimated at some time in 1996 or 1997 or 1998.

There was, during the Bush administration, a brief flash of common sense that turned into more goofiness concerning the construction three blocks from the White House.

A stop order was placed by the White House on planning and federal involvement in the pretentions of the "Cultural and Trade Center," an order issued while construction was still below ground level.

But, in the wildly improbable and predictable ways of Washington, construction kept going. And no one, not in Congress or the Bush White House or anywhere, acted to stop the running of the wasteful perpetual-motion machine.

A recent flurry of manufactured front page news in Washington said the plans for the Federal Triangle Building had been "revised" to place offices and agencies dealing with international trade inside the mammoth building when it's completed.

The "revision" appears less than meets the eye, since any and all of the "trade" agencies and sub-agencies said to be scheduled to move into the monstrous federal office building will make it no less a monstrous federal office building and one that needn't have been built in the first place.

What Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Washington congressional delegate, and others of the Washington establishment have salvaged and kept on the road to perpetuity all these years is a public works project of such foolish immensity it could not survive anywhere else but Washington.

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The ongoing construction of what's for now the $1.2 billion project has employed and will continue to employ thousands of construction workers living in the District of Columbia and the neighboring suburbs.

It's also inevitable in the Washington environment - probably written down somewhere - that lawyers by the hundreds would come to circle like hungry sharks where $1.2 billion is in play and more money can be sued for.

Suppliers, contractors, developers, architects, labor unions, perhaps casual passers-by, whoever has a dispute that can be invigorated into a lawsuit, has reportedly already gone to court or is on the way.

In this wildly wasteful federal project that should never have been started and should have been stopped several times, the single certainty is that all the costs - the endless planning, the endless construction, the endless lawsuits, all of it - will be paid by American taxpayers who have again been badly represented and abused by their government.

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