Monument ... to folly?

Friday, November 2, 2007

If you wonder why we have a $62 million federal courthouse standing empty in Cape Girardeau while bureaucrats find new ways to manufacture red tape, you are eligible to be a charter member of my new club called TIRED, or ThisIsReallyEconomicallyDumb.gov.us.

Some of you remember that I have moaned and whined about the exorbitant cost of the new federal courthouse. And there is still $2 million (translation from government gobbledygook: $10 million) to be spent on a deficient roof that has kept any federal offices from moving into the building.

The General Services Administration, which is the federal agency that builds stuff, long ago pooh-poohed my concern about the extravagant waste at the new federal courthouse. Yes, the atrium large enough to generate its own weather system is imposing, but the utility bill for controlling the domed tower's climate has to be staggering. The GSA slapped me down by declaring: Federal buildings are more than utilitarian office buildings. They are monuments.

And you wonder why so many American taxpayers are disgusted with the federal bureaucracy.

This week the GSA announced that the Social Security Administration, which currently occupies cramped space in the existing federal building at Broadway and Fountain Street, will be relocating to another new building to be constructed by a private developer and rented to the feds for more than a quarter of a million dollars a year.

Does this make sense to you?

The GSA already owns the old federal building. When some offices finally move to the new courthouse, wouldn't there be room to expand the Social Security operation?

Oh. Sorry.

I, of course, do not have the requisite degree in Tax-and-Spend Redundancy to outguess a federal bureaucrat. What was I thinking?

But a better question is this: Why didn't the GSA build a federal courthouse that would accommodate all the federal offices and agencies in Cape Girardeau? It appears that once the big new building is finally occupied, it will house less of the federal government's local operations than the small old building.

And, I am duty-bound to remind you as founder and president of TIRED, there is still no U.S. district judge assigned to Cape Girardeau to use the monumental courtrooms at the monumental new courthouse with its monumental atrium large enough for skydiving practice.

There is an interesting juxtaposition here. At the same time we learn more details about the delays in opening the new federal courthouse and the announcement that the Social Security office will get new space elsewhere in town, Southeast Missouri State University opened its new River Campus for the visual and performing arts with a couple of weeks of knock-your-socks-off events. For millions of dollars less, the River Campus has a new performing arts center, a recital hall, a flexible theater, a museum, galleries, classrooms, work areas, offices and public spaces arrayed on what is arguably the most beautiful site overlooking the Mississippi River to be found in our fair city. And it is an architectural monument to boot.

When Congress decided a few months ago to name the new courthouse for the respected lawyer Rush H. Limbaugh Sr., it was a fitting tribute to man whose 100-plus years were devoted to the law and the orderly administration of government. The naming decision generated a bit of a ruckus because Limbaugh Sr. shares his moniker with his grandson, a radio entertainer who is not, believe it or not, universally loved and admired.

Members of TIRED might well wonder how Limbaugh Sr. would react to having his name attached to a federal boondoggle.

For those of you who like facts and figures: If I charged $10 a year for TIRED dues, you would be paying 0.00000016129 percent of the cost of our fine (but still empty) new federal monument. Maybe if we all pitch in ... .

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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