It's d'j' vu at GOP's final hearing on CVC ' cost overruns, more delays

The testimony at the final oversight hearing on the Capitol Visitor Center under Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) began much as the first one did more than a year and a half ago: a reluctant architect of the Capitol and his staff trying to justify a cost increase and a completion date extension on the massively over-budget project.

This time the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which has been monitoring the project, reported that the estimated completion date had slipped six weeks since the Sept. 21 hearing to Oct. 26, 2007. The project’s cost also continued to balloon, this time to $592 million, $8 million more than the previous estimate.

“We have not updated our estimate of the project’s cost at completion with an allowance for risks and uncertainties,” the GAO report noted.

At nearly every one of the 15 oversight hearings on the Capitol Visitors Center, Allard, chairman of the Appropriations legislative branch subcommittee, has heard testimony that sounded more like a refrain then a progress report.

Allard expressed disappointment in the latest slippages.

“I understand the project completion date, including the installation of the exhibits, would be the end of November, and a realistic opening maybe in the year 2008,” Allard said and expressed frustration that contractor appeared to be “not paying attention to deadlines.”

He asked Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman and Bob Hixon, the project manager, how the project could have increased $8 million in two months.

Hixon attributed the delay and expense to the complicated fire-alarm safety systems, which have proven to be a serious obstacle for the project.

The 580,000-square-foot facility has changed in scope and size since it was first introduced more than a decade ago. Advanced security systems, House and Senate expansion spaces and “unforeseen delays” such as weather have all contributed to the cost increase and deadline extension; however, missed construction benchmarks and mismanagement have tacked on months to the work and millions of dollars to the overall cost.

During the hearing, Bernie Ungar, the GAO’s director of physical infrastructure issues, mentioned that one cause of the cost increase between the September hearing and the meeting yesterday was a security issue identified by the Capitol police that totaled in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

However, Ungar said that the largest problem with the scheduling of the project is that the AoC contractors are not being realistic about the schedule.

“Is there a why?” Allard asked.

“There is a lack of management focus,” Ungar replied.

Additional problems mentioned by the GAO were the heating and cooling systems that have fallen behind between the two hearings and could prove to be a major obstacle in the future.

Ungar expressed frustration at times during the hearing when answering questions regarding the AoC schedule management.

“You need to make the milestones meaningful,” Ungar said, referring to the dozens of construction deadlines that the AoC has missed or have been late in completing during the oversight period.

The AoC completed only three of the 18 project milestones that were scheduled on time.

As the hearing drew to a close, Allard encouraged Hantman to submit to the incoming committee chairman a “lessons learned” document so that others could study the way the project was executed.