Architects warn budget cuts risk deterioration of Capitol building

U.S. architecture and engineering groups are warning congressional leaders that budget cuts could leave the U.S. Capitol building in disrepair.

The groups argue the budget cuts could severely hamper needed maintenance and cause “deterioration of the Capitol dome and its supporting structures.”

They also said the cuts could lead to more costly repairs down the road while putting at risk an important symbol of U.S. Democracy.

“This would unfortunately lead to higher costs for taxpayers in future years as deferred repairs come due,” the groups said in a letter to congressional leaders. “In addition, these cuts will risk the heritage, safety and security of the U.S. Capitol, the world’s leading symbol of democratic ideals.”

The Architect of the Capitol [AoC], which takes care of the Capitol building and its grounds, was particularly hard hit by budget cuts in the most recent appropriations bill for the legislative branch.

After requesting more than $588 million in funding for the next year, lawmakers appropriated it $444 million. That’s a sharp drop from the $496 million the agency received in the last fiscal year.

Groups signing the letter include the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the National Institute of Building Sciences.

The letter was addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The AoC had already begun the first phase of restoration work on the Capitol dome skirt — the lower level of the cast-iron structure — with a completion date set for this fall prior to the 2013 presidential inaugural. But plans for the second phase of repairs remain uncertain.

In February, Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers testified before the House Appropriations Legislative Branch subcommittee that aging buildings around the Capitol campus would require more money, citing last year’s 5.8-magnitude earthquake.

Because of inflation, the groups argued lawmaker frugality could come back to haunt future taxpayers.

“As any homeowner knows, delaying needed repairs only costs more in the long run,” they wrote.

“The longer Capitol renewal projects are delayed, the conditions in these facilities will continue to deteriorate,” Ayers told appropriators. “Deficiencies will grow more and more serious, and ultimately more costly to repair.”