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CVC’s Last Stages May Go Into 2007

While completion of the Capitol Visitor Center is now slated for fall 2006, Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman acknowledged to Senate appropriators Wednesday that portions of the structure — including office space for both chambers — might not be finished until as late as March 2007.

Testifying at a hearing of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, Hantman stated that several contracts for the 588,000-square-foot center have yet to be awarded pending the approval of “obligation plans” from House and Senate lawmakers.

That delay leaves in limbo the completion of portions of the three-story subterranean structure, including 170,000 square feet of House and Senate expansion space, a 16,500-square-foot exhibition area and a tunnel connecting the center to House office buildings.

“Until we get the contractor on board and work with them, we don’t know what the schedule is,” said Hantman. A recently released Government Accountability Office analysis cited repeatedly during the hearing suggests the contract delays could push back completion of those facilities up to six months after the central CVC structure is ready for occupancy.

During the hearing, Hantman also defended the project’s price tag, which the GAO analysis estimates could grow to $515 million by the time the center is completed, significantly more than its original $265 million budget.

Hantman referred to the visitor center as a “magnificent challenge,” citing figures from the GAO analysis that show 77 percent of the factors that have grown the visitor center budget to its current $421 million price tag have been “largely beyond” the AOC’s control.

“The big challenge [is] … it is no longer the same project we started with,” Hantman said.

Among the nearly two dozen design changes to the project since its 1998 groundbreaking, the Architect listed the expansion areas, originally envisioned as an unfinished “shell space,” as well as major renovations of the Capitol’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, and security enhancements mandated by Congress in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The Architect did not, however, address his office’s request for an additional $36.9 million for the project in fiscal 2006. A spokesman for the project has previously stated that those funds would be used for a variety of costs including administration and construction management fees; modifications to the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building, which is connected to the CVC via a tunnel; exhibits; equipment purchases; and additional costs incurred because of delays.

In an attempt to improve oversight of the project, Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), who chairs the subcommittee, has requested the Architect submit a timeline of the remaining construction, including expected costs over the coming months.

“The more we can get down as a plan, the better off we’d all be,” Allard said.

The Colorado Senator also touched briefly on the AOC’s overall $506 million fiscal 2006 budget request, which represents an increase of 45 percent, or $157 million over the agency’s current funding levels.

In addition to CVC-related costs, Allard noted the increase is tied to construction of Library of Congress storage facilities in Maryland, as well as an off-site package delivery facility for the Capitol Police. The Senator has requested the Architect provide a list of projects included in the budget, ranked according to order of necessity and cost.

The appropriations panel likewise reviewed a budget request from Secretary of the Senate Emily Reynolds, whose office is seeking a 7 percent increase in fiscal 2006 to $23 million.

Legislative branch agencies are seeking a combined $4.03 billion in the coming fiscal year, an increase of $482 million, or 13.5 percent over current spending levels.

“Clearly, in the constrained budget environment in which we will be operating, an increase of this level will be difficult if not impossible to provide,” Allard said.

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