The new chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch has said she intends to hold oversight hearings on the Capitol Visitor Center, starting in mid- to late February. [IMGCAP(1)]
But though no date has been set by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), that timeframe would mean that Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman will no longer work for Congress for the CVC’s first progress hearings run by the new Democratic majority (Senate Republicans held 15 such hearings over the past year and a half).
Hantman will serve out his last day in office on Friday, Feb. 2, before his term officially expires two days later, 10 years after he was first brought to the Hill in part to manage the massive visitor center construction project beneath the Capitol’s East Front.
Since it appears that Hantman’s successor, who will be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, will not be named for quite a while, AOC Chief Operating Officer Stephen Ayers will serve as acting Architect, representing the office during the upcoming hearings and overseeing the final phases of construction on the over-budget and behind-schedule project.
A spokesman for Wasserman Schultz noted, however, that Hantman could still be called to testify after his impending retirement.
Last week, Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), a 10-year veteran of the Appropriations Committee who was tapped to serve as ranking member of the legislative branch panel earlier this month, said he’s looking forward to working with Wasserman Schultz to “close this thing out and tighten it down.”
Wamp, who served on the subcommittee in previous Congresses, is a former real estate broker and comes from a family of architects. He has been a vocal critic of the way Hantman has managed the CVC in recent appropriations cycles and said he’s glad that Wasserman Schultz has decided to reassert the House’s oversight role in the project.
“In my view the [AOC] for the last 10 years hasn’t communicated with both the House and Senate equally,” he said. “I think they’ve been more inclined, because of the confirmation and the process for how the Architect is selected, they pay more attention to what the Senate would like to see. I said to Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz, I’d like to see this 50-50, with even attention to the House and the Senate.”
Wamp said that while losing the AOC this late in process is a challenge, the change also will provide a fresh start as the project moves ahead with the final stages of construction and plans are developed for the many operational issues that come with finally opening the new facility.
“We inherit a project that is now headed for completion,” Wamp said. “When the Hantman era in the AOC’s office ends and new people transition us forward we’ll have an opportunity to share with them what we’d like to see. We need to let bygones be bygones because you can’t fix any of the mistakes that have already been made [and] it won’t do any good to look over our shoulder.”
After meeting with his sophomore colleague, who joined the Appropriations panel in December, Wamp said Wasserman Schultz “is young and bright and energetic and has a really good attitude about trying to close out the CVC with the best management practices and as few problems as possible.”
The new facility “is going to be something that we’re all going to be very proud of, but it doesn’t mean you have to be proud of what happened and how it happened,” he said, adding that he’s interested in seeing Hantman’s “lessons learned” report on the CVC before the AOC leaves the Hill at the end of next week.
“You can be proud of the end result and grateful that people persevered through all these challenges, but if we don’t learn from the mistakes then even smaller procurement projects of a construction nature in the future can run into the same hurdles,” he said.