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CVC Delayed Again, Until Late 2006 or Even ’07

Continuing a long-running plot, the Architect of the Capitol and the Government Accountability Office played their usual roles at Thursday’s Senate progress hearing on the Capitol Visitor Center — the former full of optimism, the latter more the skeptic.

While once long ago — back in late 2002 and early 2003 — officials had hoped to at least partially occupy the CVC in advance of the January 2005 inauguration, more recent timetables have set the underground facility’s opening date for September 2006. But at last week’s hearing of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, AOC Alan Hantman said setting a new December 2006 opening date would “be prudent.”

Hantman said that while the AOC and its contractors are “creatively and responsibly” striving to meet the September 2006 target for completion, commissioning concerns — such as fine-tuning mechanical systems and evaluating and certifying fire safety systems — would postpone the CVC’s public opening at least another 90 days. The completion date for the House and Senate expansion space in the CVC remains unchanged at March 2007, he said.

But in testimony submitted Thursday, GAO officials, who have been working with the subcommittee to monitor progress on the CVC, said “unless the project’s scope is changed or extraordinary actions are taken … the base project is more likely to be completed sometime in the spring or summer of 2007.” And commissioning would take another several months on top of that.

The GAO’s skepticism is not new. Since at least July 2003, agency officials have been stating that the project wouldn’t be complete before well into 2007.

“We continue to believe that the durations scheduled for a number of … activities are unrealistic,” the report said. It noted that according to CVC project team managers and staff, several projects, such as testing the fire protection system, installing interior stone work and commissioning the heating ventilation and air conditioning system, are not likely to be completed in the time period indicated in a schedule put together as recently as this summer.

The testimony continued: “Some of these are among the activities whose durations we identified as optimistic in early 2004 … these activities also served as the basis for our March 2004 recommendation to AOC that it reassess its activity durations to see that they are realistic and achievable at the budgeted cost.”

But according to CVC Project Director Bob Hixon, who also testified at Thursday’s hearing, despite recent setbacks — including design revisions for the complex’s utility tunnel, a drop-off in stone masons working on the site and problems in stone deliveries — the September 2006 date for construction completion “doesn’t seem impossible to achieve. … We disagree that it’s going to be as dire as GAO projects.”

Both Hantman and Hixon discussed how the project contractor was developing plans to recover lost time, either by implementing longer work days or resequencing work projects.

Yet GAO’s director of physical infrastructure issues, Bernard Ungar, said his agency has a number of concerns with the ways the AOC is looking at recovering time and finding shortcuts to finish by next September.

“Various AOC actions could expedite the project and save costs, but they could also have less positive effects,” the GAO report read. “For example, accelerating work on the utility tunnel could save costs by preventing or reducing delays in several other important activities whose progress depends on the tunnel’s completion. Conversely, using temporary equipment or adding workers to overcome delays could increase the project’s costs if the government is responsible for the delays.”

Subcommittee Chairman Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) said Thursday that he has no doubt about the quality of work being done at the CVC, but he pointed out that many of GAO’s concerns raised months and even years ago continue to come to fruition. He said he hopes that by next month’s progress hearing, the AOC will have a “realistic schedule” of work that will get done as the project moves into its last year of construction.

“While all of us look forward with great anticipation to the opening, the project is only 64 percent complete according to AOC’s last monthly report,” Allard said. “Progress is slower than expected, illustrated by the fact that only seven of the 16 selected milestones scheduled for completion by today have actually been completed and none were on time. While AOC remains confident in their September 2006 projected completion date, GAO has become even more pessimistic in its projections based on their observations to date.”

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