Throwback Thursday: In 1978, Hart Senate Office Building Budgeted for $48 Million, Cost $122 Million
Construction on the Hart Senate Office Building began in January 1975. A June 1972 estimate put construction costs at $48 million. But, when the building was completed in September 1982, it cost $137.7 million — $379 million in 2021 dollars.
It was for this reason that in March 1978, when the building was still being constructed and its price tag increasing, Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, gave the U.S. Senate a Golden Fleece award for wasteful and nonsensical spending.
At the time, the Senate had raised the price tag to $122 million — $336 million in 2021 dollars — paying for luxury features like a senators-only rooftop dining room — the third dining room for senators — and a physical fitness center when senators already have two other gyms they can use.
The plans called for using marble and bronze throughout the building where other, less expensive materials would do; excessive landscaping and artwork and wood paneling for senators' offices, alone costing $1.5 million.
“The addition of certain luxury features shows an arrogance on the part of the Senate that should make taxpayers livid with anger,” Proxmire said in 1978.
The cost kept increasing because of built-in incentives to spend, delays coupled with rising costs, and the addition of unnecessary luxury features, he noted.
“Considerable savings might have been made if construction contracts had included clauses to provide incentives for contractors to make every possible savings,” Proxmire said. “Instead, the contracts awarded by the Senate include a built-in incentive to spend since they provide a flat 6 percent fee for the project. This means no penalties for cost increases.”
“Ironically, the new office building is to be named for the late Senator Philip A. Hart — of all Senators the most averse to pomp or show,” he said.
The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.