Hundreds of Millions of Dollars Spent to Maintain Crumbling, Vacant Government Buildings

A Look at Federal Buildings Across the Nation Wasting Taxpayer Dollars

March 25, 2010, 9:56 AM

March 25, 2010— -- Right in the heart of Washington, D.C., sits Federal Building Number 8 -- taxpayer owned and empty since 2002. The building doesn't look like much, but the real estate couldn't be more prime. The Capitol building is so close you can see it reflected in its windows.

The property alone is worth $100 million but the government is not making a penny off the building -- which stretches an entire city block.

The General Services Administration (GSA) is in charge of this building and many others and says that the government vacancy rate is actually lower than the private sector's. The GSA says it has plans to renovate the building, but it has sat empty for almost a decade.

"We had to wait to get funding for design and construction from Congress, that's the way this thing works," Bob Peck, GSA commissioner of public buildings, said.

ABC News found that across the country, vacant, underused and sometimes dangerous federal buildings are siphoning millions in taxpayer dollars.

Sitting upon a sunny hilltop in Milwaukee, Wisc., the chapel at the Zablocki Veterans Affairs complex is shell of its former self. The crumbling arches of the gothic-style construction makes the building unusable. Still, the VA is wasting $348,000 every year to maintain it.

Just outside Chicago, in Maywood, Ill., a 58,000 square-foot building on the Hines VA complex has been vacant for more than 15 years. Holding onto the building drains away crucial VA dollars, but the Administration can't sell it.

"That's not something I can do as a VA director. That would be Congress," said Robert Beller, VA director.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that the Veterans Administration alone is spending $170 million a year maintaining its vacant and underused buildings. Government-wide, the cost is much greater.

"It's a lot of money. We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars every year to be able to just repair these properties," said Mark Goldstein, GAO's director for physical infrastructure issues.

But the empty government buildings are not just costly eyesores, they are also public hazards. A dead body was found in an abandoned courthouse in Kansas City.

Some abandoned government buildings have found a new function and are not just sitting empty. The Old Post Office in Chicago, vacant since the mid 1990's, is one such success story.

The Gotham-like structure was not only rented out as a set for the film Dark Knight, last year it became one of the precious few properties the government actually sold -- though for a fraction of its worth before the real estate crash.

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