Acting Capitol architect praised by senators at confirmation hearing

Acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers got a glowing endorsement from lawmakers at his confirmation hearing Thursday and was virtually guaranteed confirmation by the full Senate.

President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMore than 400,000 people barred from becoming citizens due to coronavirus: report Poll finds public evenly split on delayed Supreme Court ObamaCare decision Samantha Power: UN covering up Russia's role in Syria bombings MORE nominated Ayers to fill the 10-year term last month. He has served as the interim AoC for the past three years.

ADVERTISEMENT

On Thursday he was highly praised at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

Committee Chairman Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHealth care workers account for 20 percent of Iowa coronavirus cases Pressure mounts on Congress for quick action with next coronavirus bill Schumer names coronavirus czar candidates in plea to White House MORE (D-N.Y.) described the selection process as “rigorous” but said that nearly every member wanted to see Ayers take the position.

Sen. Bob Bennett (Utah), the ranking Republican on the committee, said the process took so long — three years — in part because the two chambers were considering outside candidates and could not reach an agreement. But the one candidate that both the Senate and the House could agree upon was Ayers, he said.

“Stephen Ayers played a very significant role in seeing to it that we got what we have, and it’s only fitting now that he continue for another 10 years so that when the plumbing starts to leak, he will know where to go to fix it,” Bennett said.

Ayers’s office is charged with maintaining more than 16.5 million square feet of facilities, including the expansive multi-million-dollar Capitol Visitor Center (CVC) and more than 450 acres of property that fall under the legislative branch’s jurisdiction.

In his first months in office, Ayers became the focus of outrage for many lawmakers who balked at the doubling cost of the CVC and demanded he provide a better plan of accountability for its construction.

But since the CVC’s opening more than a year ago, lawmaker opinions have been relatively positive of Ayers’s performance.

Lawmakers did raise several budgetary issues with Ayers during the hearing. Ayers has indicated the AoC’s office has more than $600 million in deferred maintenance and more than $800 million in renewal projects, with $900 million of the total being urgent or high priority.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), chairman of the Legislative Branch Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has said that he is aiming for a “flat” budget next fiscal year.

Ayers said that it was going to be difficult to meet Nelson’s budgetary goals, which would amount to a $155 million cut in the AoC’s budget request.

Ayers said he has given Nelson a proposal in which the AoC identifies several possible spending cutbacks. Ayers said his plan includes delaying Capitol maintenance projects and breaking other projects down into smaller phases prioritized by their level of importance, among other possibilities.

The American Institute of Architects endorsed Ayers on Thursday, saying that his "experience in facilities management, his natural leadership abilities, and the skills he brings through his education and licensure as an architect, all contribute to his proven ability to serve the United States Congress."

Senators were unsure when the full Senate would vote on Ayers’s confirmation.