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Turn off the Lights: Federal Government Utility Bills Cost Taxpayers Millions


"I used to work for the federal government. I know they waste tax dollars - do it every day."

"Why do they leave all those lights on?"  I hear this question from my parents nearly every time they come to visit me in Washington, D.C.

Government buildings in D.C. notoriously leave lots of lights on at night, which is not only a big waste of energy, but also a huge waste of money. (And when it comes to government buildings, we all know who gets to pay those electricity bills.)

So how much does this careless waste of resources cost taxpayers? One reporter from WUSA-TV sought to find out and to see how much room there is for improvement.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, WUSA's Andrea McCarren discovered that the electricity alone for these bureaucratic headquarters costs taxpayers millions of dollars every month.

The low end is about $200,000 a month. The high end more than a million. One month's electricity bill at the Department of Labor topped a MILLION dollars. That was a bill paid in July of last year. The month before, the department paid a bill of nearly $700,000. And utility costs of that magnitude are not unusual. ...

"It doesn't matter whether it's a dollar or $700. The fact that there are any late payments indicates mismanagement," said Tom Schatz, President of Citizens Against Government Waste.

"Turning off the lights is about the simplest way that the government can save money. There is no excuse not to do this on a regular basis," said Schatz.

The cost of running government buildings is one thing, but last March, ABC News also noted how taxpayers are also footing the bill to maintain crumbling buildings that sit empty -- many of which sit on land worth millions.

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.

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