The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Cedar Rapids still awaits new U.S. courthouse as head of the GSA, the federal agency that manages courthouse money, is ousted

In City Hall, Downtown District, Viewpoint on May 1, 2008 at 8:19 pm

Washington, D.C., can seem a long way away, and the comings and goings of political appointees there can seem pretty irrelevant to the price of gasoline at Casey’s and the cost of Cheerios at the Hy-Vee.

Even so, it was hard to miss national newspaper stories on Wednesday that reported the forced resignation of the head of the U.S. General Services Administration, Lurita Doan, at the request of the White House.

Some things that happen at the GSA matter for Cedar Rapids watchers because the city has been eager for the GSA to get moving on the $100-million-plus federal courthouse, more than a decade in the planning.

The GSA doesn’t fund projects, Congress does, the agency long has pointed out.

Nonetheless.

The problems of the GSA’s Doan were reportedly several in her two-year tenure running an agency which manages $50 billion in contracts every year.

The Washington Post cited two lawmakers who were most critical of Doan: Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Of note, the Washington Post and The New York Times reported Wednesday that Waxman’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee turned up evidence that Doan may have violated the Hatch Act in January 2007 when she allegedly asked how the agency might help Republican Congressional candidates in districts in which Republicans might unseat Democrats in 2008 or districts in which Republican incumbents might be vulnerable.

The Post further reported that:

“The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, a government watchdog agency, conducted its own probe of those claims and concluded that she made the remarks and violated the Hatch Act, which generally prohibits employees of federal agencies from using their positions for political purposes. In a letter last June, Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch urged President Bush to discipline Doan ‘to the fullest extent,’ which included removing her from office.”

Again, Washington, D.C., is a long way away, and who knows what any of that means.

One thing is known, though.

In an extraordinary move in mid-March, local Cedar Rapids officials joined Senior Judge David Hansen and Judge Michael Melloy — both judges are housed in Cedar Rapids as members of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and both are advocates for a new federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids — in a public-relations event to ask Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Mount Vernon, to see what he could do to find special money to get the Cedar Rapids courthouse project moving.

Loebsack didn’t shy away from calling what was being asked for what it was, a federal “earmark.”

It had come to that, though, because the local officials had become sufficiently soured and suspicious of the federal courthouse funding program and the ability of it to deliver funds based on a project’s merits and the length of time a project has been in line for funding.

The GSA regional office in Kansas City serves four states, and the Cedar Rapids courthouse project long has been on the regional list to be built after a courthouse in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

However, a courthouse project in Jefferson City, Mo., now has leaped ahead of the Cedar Rapids courthouse project among projects in the Kansas City region.

The Cedar Rapids project has secured several million dollars for design and site preparation. Additionally, there are some pretty pictures of what the new courthouse will look like. It is proposed to extend from the Cedar River to Second Street SE between Seventh and Eighth avenues SE and to face toward downtown.

 

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  1. The biggest problem in this entire process is that our many of our elected official from Iowa have not been interested in using their clout in order to maintain or even improve our position on the list that the Administrative Office of the Courts has. Thus, retiring Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), advanced an Illinois project ahead of ours.

    I’m glad that Rep. Loebsack is interested in an earmark, but that isn;t even what’s necessary…it’s taking the GSA-utilized project list prepared by AOC and advancing Cedar Rapids up the list based on:
    1. Security
    2. Higher than normal number of convictions per judge
    3. Unusual and cooperative process within the community
    4. Impact on community from continued delay.

    Historically, these projects are proposed by AOC, not funded in the President’s budget, then Congress has to step in and make the choice of how many and where the $$ will come from.

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