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Appropriators Weigh Security, Convenience

While nearly two years remain before the Capitol Visitor Center will open to the general public, House lawmakers are already questioning whether security concerns are overshadowing some of the addition’s intended benefits.

“The movement of visitors in this compound is very disjointed,” Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, said during Wednesday’s hearing on the CVC’s fiscal 2005 budget.

Kingston, subcommittee ranking member Jim Moran (D-Va.) and others voiced concerns about restrictions that currently require visitors to often undergo multiple security screenings when visiting the Capitol and its office buildings, and expressed reservations over whether the CVC would alleviate that problem.

“We’re making it very difficult for the visitors, who are suppose to be the centerpiece,” Moran said.

Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman said operation and security issues are under discussion by the Capitol Preservation Committee, an 18-member group comprised of House and Senate leadership and the chairmen of the committees with oversight of the CVC.

A number of proposals are being considered that would ease tourists’ visits to Capitol Hill, Hantman said, including specially trained staff who could escort visitors screened in Congressional office buildings to the CVC without a secondary screening.

The Architect’s office is seeking $14.5 million in its fiscal 2005 budget for the CVC’s “start-up” costs (the office’s overall request totals $585). The 580,000-square-foot subterranean facility is scheduled to open to the public in spring 2006.

Hearing Notes. During a related Wednesday hearing on the AOC’s overall budget several panel members also proposed privatizing the Capitol Power Plant.

“It is a very expensive, inefficient operation,” Moran asserted.

The facility, which provides steam heat and chilled water, serves the Capitol campus, as well as the Supreme Court, Library of Congress and Union Station, which pay for the service.

Hantman acknowledged his agency is reviewing a General Accounting Office report which discussed the plant, but also praised the effectiveness of the facility.

“It’s had 100 percent reliability over the last 90 years,” Hantman said of the plant. “We’ve never failed to provide steam and chilled water.”

The Architect also discussed the creation of a fitness facility for House staffers, a longtime priority for Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), who sits on the Appropriations panel.

Following a study of six sites on the Capitol campus, AOC officials will pursue a location in the lower level of the Rayburn House Office Building garage.

That location formerly housed the House car wash and is outfitted with the necessary plumbing and other utilities, Hantman said.

The facility, which will require about a year to design, will encompass about 10,000 square feet, enough to accommodate “a good number of people,” the Architect said. Estimated costs for the gym range up to $3 million.

Several Members praised the proposal and mentioned the recent opening of a Senate staff fitness facility in the Dirksen Building.

LaHood, an avid runner, said a House facility will remind staffers that “your health is important.”

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