Sen. Allard says Architect's reputation is on the line on CVC

The Office of the Architect of the Capitol (AoC) has an unrealistic schedule for completion of the Capitol Visitor Center (CVC), according to congressional investigators and a key contractor working on the beleaguered construction project.

In testimony yesterday to the Senate Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and a contractor on the site again raised major concerns about the management of the CVC.

“I think [the schedule] is overly optimistic,” said Marvin Shenkler, a representative from Gilbane Building Co., the CVC’s construction-management contractor. “It’s a very aggressive schedule.”

Terrell Dorn, the GAO’s assistant director of physical infrastructure, said the GAO could not provide an accurate cost estimate to complete the project until the date of completion is firmly set.

Bernard Ungar, the GAO’s director of physical infrastructure, said it is critical that the AoC have “a realistic and credible schedule” before the GAO could update its estimates.

Alan Hantman, who runs the AoC, told subcommittee Chairman Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) that construction will be completed by September 2006 and that the CVC will open to the public in December 2006. He said he hopes a revised schedule would put the CVC back on track. He added that the fire marshal and Gilbane were reviewing it.

Dorn cautioned the subcommittee: “It’s very important that the AoC and Gilbane rigorously examine the schedule … until the CVC team completes the analysis of the schedule, the schedule settles down and a realistic completion date is set, the team is almost flying blind.

“Progress is not being made to complete construction in September.”

The GAO projects a completion date of spring or summer 2007.

Hantman argued that the schedule is more detailed and comprehensive than most people involved with the CVC are used to.

“While Mr. Dorn characterized us as ‘flying blind’ a little while ago, the issue here is that we’ve got a very thorough schedule that the contractor has committed to and we need to evaluate from both the fire marshal’s perspective and from a construction manager’s perspective,” he said.

Hantman told the panel that the cost-to-complete assessment was done by McDonough Bolyard Peck, a consulting firm hired by the AoC, on Oct. 11 and that no additional funds were being considered.

Hantman added that extra costs incurred in the past had been because of special safety and fire regulations.

The GAO agreed. In its report to the subcommittee, the GAO detailed that $900,000 has already been spent on the change to the system’s design and scope.

GAO officials testified that they did not have time to review the cost-to-complete update before the hearing because it was given to them only late last week by the AoC’s consulting firm.

According to GAO estimates, the project will cost between $525.6 million to $559 million.

Dorn testified about the “three-month trend” of not reaching critical milestones and activities “which by definition must be completed on time for the project to remain on schedule.”

Hantman told the subcommittee that McDonough Bolyard Peck had also identified future risk items, to head off possible problems before they occur.

“To date, the project team has conducted two follow-up working sessions as part of the review process to develop a comprehensive risk-management plan for each item,” Hantman said. “This is an ongoing process.”

Deadlines continued to slip after the last hearing, on Sept. 15, and Allard reported in his opening statement that just three of the 11 critical construction milestones were finished, none of them on time.

Projects such as the utility tunnel and interior stonework have been plagued with delays in recent months because of significant problems, including bad weather and a shortage of stonemasons.

Despite the constant delays and cost overruns, Allard, who began the oversight hearings in May, remains undeterred and plans to continue having hearings to keep the AoC and their contractors on schedule.

“The hearings are worthwhile,” Allard told The Hill yesterday.

The committee staff has been working with the AoC and the GAO as well as with House Appropriations Committee officials, who have monitored the hearings closely, he added.

“They are pleased we are holding them,” he said.

While he did not spell out any immediate consequences for the slippage in deadlines and the ever-increasing price, he said, “I think the main thing is the architect of the Capitol’s reputation is on the line and the contractors reputations are on the line,” Allard said. “[Hantman] has to be responsive to the Congress, and he’s trying to be responsive.”

Allard praised the GAO for its role and described its on-site visits as the subcommittee’s “eyes and ears.”

“The GAO has a better record of being able to predict what was going to happen in the future” on the CVC project, he said. “I put a lot of faith in the GAO.”