GSA Chief Says Courthouse Funds Are Safe

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A new funding scheme to keep construction of Orange County's federal courthouse on track despite a surprise congressional budget cut is "a done deal," General Services Administrator Roger W. Johnson said Wednesday.

Johnson, who was home in Orange County on Wednesday, said his agency has culled $25 million from the long-term budgets of other projects and obtained approval from all the necessary congressional budget committees to use it for the courthouse.

He said this "reprogramming" of GSA funding, unlike requests for new spending, does not require a vote of the entire Congress.

Moreover, he said, the money was shifted from projects that don't need it as immediately as Orange County's courthouse, on which construction was scheduled to begin in the upcoming fiscal year.

"In this case we were going out for bids. That's why it was so critical," Johnson said. Although Congress last year awarded $103 million for the courthouse project, the remaining $25 million was needed for full funding before the contracts could be awarded, he said. Johnson said he took notice when a congressional conference committee late last week cut the courthouse funding as part of a larger public works budget slash.

He said the GSA had studied and approved plans to build Orange County's first federal courthouse in Santa Ana. "It is a sound project that is needed," he said.

Johnson, former chairman of Western Digital and an Orange County resident, added: "I didn't do it just because it was Orange County. I would protect any worthwhile project anywhere in the country."

In rapidly putting together a stopgap funding plan, Johnson said he received valuable cooperation from Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Treasury appropriations subcommittee, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif).

"Dianne has done a very good job in protecting, or trying to protect, resources in California that she thinks are very necessary," he said. "She put a lot of pressure on the Senate to make sure we would find an alternative course."

He said Feinstein delayed the Senate's final vote on the conference committee's slashed GSA construction budget "until we could find the money" for the courthouse. The Senate voted to approve the budget Wednesday.

Orange County's Republican congressmen have berated the congressional conference committee for what they said amounted to sneaking construction projects into the GSA budget that were not authorized by the proper committees and cutting others to punish critics.

Johnson declined to comment on that, saying, "It's just politics."

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