Allard says CVC hearings will no longer address tunnel problems


During an oversight hearing examining the construction progress of the Capitol Visitor Center Wednesday morning, a key Senate appropriator indicated that the hearings would no longer include in-depth discussions about the dangerous conditions of the crumbling utility tunnels located underneath the Capitol complex.

During an oversight hearing examining the construction progress of the Capitol Visitor Center Wednesday morning, a key Senate appropriator indicated that the hearings would no longer include in-depth discussions about the dangerous conditions of the crumbling utility tunnels located underneath the Capitol complex.

"We got involved in the tunnel issue because of [its] attachment to the Capitol Visitor Center" and the impact the tunnels would have on the project, Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) said.

Allard, who chairs the Legislative Branch subcommittee that held the hearing, said that the discussion regarding the dangerous conditions inside tunnels would be better served in a different forum.

What that forum would be and whether the Legislative Branch subcommittee would hold additional hearings on the multi-million dollar tunnel restoration process was unclear.

Allard’s announcement is an indication that the dangerous conditions of the Capitol Power Plant utility tunnels, which have recently come to light, are beginning to overshadow the original intent of the oversight hearings. The tunnels house pipes carrying steam and chilled water to the campus buildings in order to heat and cool them.

The series of hearings on the Capitol Visitor Center (CVC) began in 2005 in order to supervise the building project because of the ever-rising costs, delays and alleged mismanagement associated with it.

"We realize that there are some problems there and we are concerned about them," Allard said. "We will deal with [the problems] under another forum."

Members of the tunnel crew, seated in the back of the hearing room, walked out as it became clear that the panel was not going to address their concerns about continued exposure to asbestos and their working conditions.

"Are they just done with us?" one member of the 10-man crew asked after the hearings.

During the hearing, Allard once again chided Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman and his staff for failing to keep a firm schedule on the 580,000-square-foot CVC, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) again testified that the Hantman and the construction crew had failed to meet key construction milestones on the project.

GAO officials testified that the estimate had not changed and was still $556 million at this time because they yet to adjust it to reflect the schedule problems.

Bernard Ungar and Terrell Dorn, who are both directors of physical infrastructure issues for the GAO, told Allard that their reassessment of the cost to complete the CVC would be finished by mid-September.