GAO faults AoC management for rising costs, delays in projects

A lack of management presence and structure is causing key Architect of the Capitol’s Office (AoC) projects to fall behind and their costs to rise, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.

In a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and a key appropriator urged Alan Hantman, the architect of the Capitol, to hire a senior manager to oversee the troubled Capitol Power Plant and the completion of the West Refrigeration Expansion Project.

Hantman tried to assure subcommittee Chairman Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) that he had advertised the position, which has stood vacant since May, when the director of utilities and power-plant operations resigned. Yet, as of press time, no federal job site had a listing for a senior AoC manager.

Eva Malecki, a spokeswoman for the AoC, said that the position was in the process of being posted and that Hantman believed it had already been posted when he gave his testimony.

In its Sept. 15 report, the GAO wrote that the Capitol Power Plant “is important to the functioning of Congress, and strong leadership is needed to oversee the completion of the expansion project and the integration, commissioning and operation of new equipment, as well as address the operational and management problems at the plant.”

The GAO also noted that it too believed that the AoC had started recruiting for the senior manager position.

Since the power plant’s director resigned, a fire that ignited as a result of operator error damaged two boilers that create steam for the Capitol complex. Both pieces of equipment had to be taken off line for three months, according to the GAO report.

In addition, the GAO noted that the Capitol Power Plant had yet to develop a plan for staffing the facility after the West Refrigeration Expansion Project is fully operational, expected to happen in March 2006. The project was originally scheduled to open in May 2005 but has been delayed because of more than $1 million in additional unauthorized procurements.

This report was not the first time the GAO has been critical of the AoC’s management. In its May 17 testimony to the same committee, the GAO expressed concern that the Capitol Visitor Center (CVC) project was suffering from a lack of supervision, causing it to fall behind and its cost to escalate.

While the AoC expressed concern over the observation and promised to fix the problem, the Sept. 15 GAO report noted that “about $800,000 was provided in two separate funding sources for the same work.”

In July, the GAO instructed the AoC to “designate responsibility for integrating the planning and budgeting for CVC construction and operations.”

The AoC designated a staff member to the task in late August, according to the GAO. In addition, the AoC is expected to hire an executive director for the CVC by the end of January 2006. Currently, the chief administrative officer for the AoC oversees CVC operations.  

The project is currently projected to cost $527.9 million; however, the AoC has not updated the cost estimates since Hantman conceded last week that completion of the 580,000-square-foot facility was delayed again and would likely not open until December 2006.

Sources familiar with the issue have said that a lack of management continuity could be the cause of some of the problems at the AoC.

A document obtained by the Hill reveals that at least 14 leadership positions have turned over since 2001. Two of the most senior staff, including the chief operating officer and the architect’s chief of staff, have left in the last two years.

In an internal employee survey in fall 2004, 91 percent of employees described management as “inconsistent” and 87 percent said that management had an “inability to work effectively,” mainly because of “shifting priorities, different messages, difference between jurisdiction, confusion.”