Search for permanent head of embattled AoC office is accelerated by lawmakers

Lawmakers are accelerating their search for a permanent head of the Architect of the Capitol (AoC) due to ongoing concerns about the agency, according to a Senate Rules Committee staffer.

When former architect Alan Hantman retired in February after having served a 10-year term, the Rules Committee, which is heading up the appointment process, indicated that finding his replacement could take between 12 and 14 months. However, the panel’s staff director, Howard Gantman, indicated that committee members are trying to put someone in place as soon as possible.

“We can do it much faster,” Gantman said. “Sen. [Dianne] Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other Senate and House members want to expedite [the process] as much as possible.”

Stephen Ayers, who was chief operating officer of the agency under Hantman, has been serving as acting architect since Hantman retired.

A commission of 14 House and Senate leaders must select three candidates and sends their names to the president. The president selects one of the nominees and the Senate confirms the appointee. Executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles was hired to aid in narrowing the field.

Heidrick & Struggles has released several updates, “made some progress” in the procedure and started to interview candidates, Gantman said.

Pat Friel, a partner at the firm, said that “the process is moving at a pretty decent clip” and will be completed in fewer than 12 to 14 months.

“We have a handful of candidates that are decent,” Friel said. “A slate [of candidates] will be presented in the next four weeks.”

Though Friel said the names of potential candidates must remain confidential, he conceded that the “opportunity is being well received in the market.”

Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) recently have written Ayers strongly worded letters, questioning his management of the agency and the deterioration of the Capitol Power Plant utility tunnels.
In Feinstein’s letter, she expressed concern that the AoC has failed to adequately confront tunnel hazards and worker health concerns.

“Worker health and safety must be of the utmost concern to the AoC, and to the Capitol Hill community,” Feinstein wrote. “Therefore, I ask you [to] raise the priority of this matter and proceed as fast as possible.”

Ayers also has come under fire from the House Appropriations Committee’s legislative branch panel for his management and the rising costs of the Capitol Visitor Center as well as the deterioration of the Capitol Power Plant’s utility tunnels.
Panel Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) has been openly critical of Ayers’s management of the AoC. At several AoC oversight hearings, Wasserman Schultz has grilled the acting architect and has appeared unsatisfied by many of his answers.

Following a hearing on the AoC’s budget, she said that some of Ayers’s answers “really call into question his credibility.”
“If he answers me, and within a second, I can turn around and know it’s not right, [there’s a problem],” Wasserman Schultz said. “The credibility gap is growing with each meeting.”

Wasserman Schultz recently told The Hill that having an acting architect “causes a tremendous amount of uncertainty.”
The commission that selects the nominees for architect includes the president pro tempore, the Speaker, House and Senate majority and minority leaders, and chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Rules, House Administration and House and Senate appropriations committees.