The construction and maintenance of public buildings for the convenience of the executive and legislative departments and for other purposes is one of the most important although not one of the largest items of expenditure. The construction of such buildings is of course necessary. That they should be imposing edifices, handsomely decorated and equipped, is a matter of national pride. That their construction should not be wasteful is self-evident. The extravagances and theft which have too often accompanied the construction of such buildings in the United States are too well known to need discussion. They are purely abuses and need no farther words of condemnation than they have always received. The cost of construction may be regarded as a permanent investment, not yielding a money revenue, but far greater utilities. The federal government spends annually about $3,500,000 upon public buildings. From 1789 down to 1882 it spent $85,591,590 for the same purpose, or an average of about $900,000 per annum. In 1890, all the different branches of the government together in the United States spent $56,841,147 upon public buildings. The British government spent, in 1894, 1,750,000 on the special account of public buildings, but there are a good many similar expenses included in the other supply services.

The exact annual value of these utilities to the government cannot be directly estimated in money. Indirectly it might be estimated as the equivalent of the interest on the sums which it would cost to replace them in the most economical manner, less the annual cost of the repairs. As, in most cases, the original expenditures were extravagant and wasteful, this method of computation would result in a smaller sum than the interest on the original cost.