By Jackie Kucinich - 06/13/06 12:00 AM EDT
A key Senate appropriator told reporters yesterday that he remains unsure whether a provision stripping Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman of his responsibilities will be included in the Senate version of the bill.
Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), chairman of the Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee, initially said he did not think the House amendment would be part of the Senate bill but then quickly retracted the statement, explaining he had not been briefed fully.
“That hasn’t been decided,” he said, adding only that no senators have approached him about inserting a similar provision.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) indicated that she supports the House amendment but has not introduced her own version. The May 25 vote “by the House Appropriations Committee is a well-deserved vote of no confidence in which I concur,” she said that day in an e-mail.
A spokeswoman for Mikulski declined to comment.
Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) introduced an amendment to the House Appropriations legislative-branch spending bill last month to remove most of the Hantman’s authority and transfer it to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) until a new architect is appointed.
“I am concerned that this is not an institutional problem which can be solved with an institutional change alone,” Obey said in a statement attached to the final House bill. “I believe it is a personnel problem related to the current management of the Office of the Architect, which is just not up to the job.”
Hantman’s office is in charge of the management and repair of the buildings on the Capitol campus.
Obey, who has been heavily critical of the rising costs of the Capitol Visitor Center, described the recent Architect of the Capitol (AoC) request for more than $100 million to fix crumbling underground utility tunnels as an example of incompetence.
“I have no confidence of what to do about tunnel repairs long term because I have no confidence in the architect’s ability to evaluate the tunnel safety problems, estimate the cost of the repairs or manage the construction,” he said.
Nearly $28 million was inserted into the Senate version of the emergency supplemental bill through an amendment sponsored by Mikulski, Allard and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). The funds would go toward repairing the tunnels, which contain utility pipes that provide chilled water and steam to heat and cool the campus.
Allard indicated that the repairs are to begin immediately.
Durbin could not be reached for comment.
Hantman’s 10-year term as architect expires in January. He was appointed by President Bill Clinton and then confirmed by the Senate in January 1997.
He had no comment on the House bill yesterday, telling reporters he could not speak about “pending legislation.”
When asked whether he would seek a second term, Hantman said, “We’re trying to get the [visitors center] finished — that’s what we are focusing on right now.”
Allard, who toured the visitors center for the first time in six months, complimented the architect on the progress that had been made in that time but cautioned that he is still concerned about how much longer it will take to complete the 580,000-square-foot facility.
“There is no doubt in my mind that when we get it all done — the [visitors center] is going to be a beautiful building,’ Allard said. “The question is: When are we going to get it completed?”
Allard said Hantman had again assured him that most of the construction on the massive project would be completed by the end of the year but said the space would not be usable until spring 2007.
“We continue to ask questions about the timeline,” Allard said.
The GAO, which has been closely monitoring construction progress for over a year, disputes the AoC’s completion estimate in every hearing held by the subcommittee, often putting the date months later than the AoC.
At the May 24 hearing, the GAO reported that the visitors center “is not likely to be ready for opening with a temporary certificate of occupancy before May 2007, about a month later than AOC is proposing.”
The GAO has estimated the final cost of the visitors center at between $556 million and $584 million. The AoC estimates the cost at $554 million.
The GAO is reassessing the cost and completion date and will release them this summer.