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AOC Takes More Heat on CVC

At Tuesday’s Senate progress hearing on the Capitol Visitor Center, Architect of the Capitol officials continued to defend their recently revised December 2006 opening date even in the face of skepticism from public and private officials closely tied to the massive construction project.

Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), who as chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch conducts monthly status hearings, noted that only three of the 11 milestones slated for completion in the past month were finished by Tuesday, and none was on time.

“This continues a three-month trend of not completing milestones,” said Terrell Dorn, the Government Accountability Office’s assistant director of physical infrastructure issues, whose agency has been assisting lawmakers in monitoring progress at the CVC.

The GAO report submitted Tuesday notes that “we have not seen recent evidence that would change our preliminary view that a base project completion date in 2006 will be difficult to achieve and that construction completion in early to mid 2007 is more likely unless AOC and its contractors take extraordinary action or change the project’s scope.”

Finalizing a completed schedule for the remaining work that needs to be done has been one of Allard’s main concerns in recent hearings, and was again Tuesday.

Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman said that earlier this month Manhattan Construction Co. — the contractor hired to complete the CVC’s second sequence, which includes mechanical, electrical, plumbing and finishing work — submitted a revised schedule that now includes some 2,000 more specific activities set to be completed. The schedule targets September 2006 for the main project completion with commissioning concerns, such as fine-tuning mechanical systems and evaluating and certifying fire-safety systems, taking another 90 days. The completion date for the House and Senate expansion space would follow in early 2007.

“This schedule significantly improves upon Manhattan’s August schedule, primarily in the sequencing of commissioning activities, and brings the total completion date, including commissioning, back to December 2006,” Hantman said in his testimony.

But that schedule was not available to be reviewed at Tuesday’s meeting as it is currently being evaluated by the fire marshal and the CVC’s contracted construction manager, Gilbane Building Co., to assure adequate durations and system commissioning sequencing.

And despite the AOC’s optimism Tuesday, when Allard called Gilbane’s project director, Marvin Shenkler, to give his thoughts on the December opening date, Shenkler said, “I think it’s overly optimistic and I’ve indicated that.”

Earlier this spring, Gilbane brought aboard a specific project control engineer to be solely responsible for the CVC project schedule and its integration, a move that the GAO noted Tuesday was a step in the right direction for the project.

“We have noted considerable improvements in the CVC team’s schedule analysis and management since the arrival of the construction management contractor’s project control engineer several months ago,” the report said. “However, we continue to be concerned about AOC’s not having adequate information systematically compiled and analyzed to fully evaluate the causes and potential responsibilities for delays on an ongoing basis. In our view, not having this type of information on an ongoing basis is likely to create problems later on should disputes arise and knowledgeable staff leave.”

Dorn warned Tuesday that “the team is almost flying blind, not able to see more than a few weeks down the road and surprises will continue.”

Hantman said that the fire marshall and Gilbane’s reviews of the updated schedule would take six to eight weeks to complete but would be discussed at the subcommittee’s November hearing.

Another recently completed report that also was not ready for review at Tuesday’s hearing was the AOC consultant McDonough Bolyard Peck’s Oct. 11 “cost-to-complete” analysis, which was circulated to AOC staff and the GAO last week.

Hantman noted that no additional funds are contemplated in that report but the GAO officials said they would wait until the agency could evaluate the report and until the project schedule stabilizes before updating their completion cost estimates.

In its last assessment, the GAO estimated the final cost of the project to be $525.6 million to $559 million. When Congressional leaders broke ground on the project in 2000, its budget stood at $265 million

On the operations side of the CVC, Hantman reported that the AOC has obtained the necessary leadership approvals on the job description for a CVC executive director to begin advertising for the post. He said the goal is to hire the executive director and possibly a half-dozen other CVC management positions by January.

“This time frame would allow for the approximate 12-month period that the AOC operations consultant feels is necessary to meet operations staffing requirements and establish procedural policies necessary for a public opening at the end of next year,” Hantman said in his statement.