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Next Architect ‘10 to 14 Months’ Away

While outgoing Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman’s 10-year term officially ends Sunday, it will be another year or so before a permanent replacement is named to head one of Congress’ largest agencies, a Senate aide said this week.

After Hantman announced his decision not to seek reappointment six months ago, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee hired a national search firm to start screening candidates for the job. But Howard Gantman, the committee’s newly installed staff director, said Wednesday that the search process has “really just begun.”

“There’s an interim Architect that’s going to be there probably 10 to 14 months,” Gantman said. “Maybe we can move it up faster, but historically there’s been a lot of parties and a lot of folks who need to talk about this and [then get] presidential approval.”

Some delay in finding Hantman’s replacement was expected as early as last fall, prior to the change of power on Capitol Hill. But even then both Democrats and Republicans said they wanted to get a top-level candidate into the post as soon as possible.

The next Architect will be only the second to be selected under a 1989 statute that not only established a 10-year term for the post, but also laid out a search-and-nomination procedure in which a bipartisan, bicameral commission of Congressional leaders forwards three names to the president, who then chooses a nominee subject to Senate confirmation.

The Rules panel is tasked with heading up the pre-screening process before presenting possible candidates to the commission, which is made up of the Speaker, the Senate President Pro Tem, the Majority and Minority Leaders of both chambers, the chairman and ranking members of the Senate Rules and Administration and Senate Appropriations panels, and the chairman and ranking members of the House Administration and Appropriations panels.

Despite Gantman’s prediction, others remain somewhat more optimistic. A Democratic leadership aide said Wednesday that the installation of the 11th Architect of the Capitol could be completed before the end of 2007, and Republican Sen. Wayne Allard (Colo.) — the ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch — stressed the importance of getting a new AOC in place prior to the opening of the Capitol Visitor Center, which is expected to take place in early 2008.

According to an Allard spokeswoman, getting the next AOC in place sooner rather than later will “help keep the final phase [of the CVC] on track and move the project from the launch to ongoing operations.”

The nearly $600 million CVC, which some consider Hantman’s crowning achievement, also has grown to be a major source of criticism for the formerly New York-based architect.

Allard — who held several hearings in 2006 in which he questioned Hantman about the CVC, health and safety issues in the Capitol’s utility tunnel system, and management practices at the AOC — wants the search for the next Architect “to focus on candidates with strong management experience,” his spokeswoman said.

Hantman’s last day in office will be Friday, and starting next week AOC Chief Operating Officer Stephen Ayers will serve as acting Architect. According to an AOC spokeswoman, Hantman and his wife plan to stay in the Washington, D.C., area upon his retirement, and he plans to open a consulting firm focused on architecture, historic preservation and planning.

While Hantman has developed a few very vocal detractors during his 10-year term, one of his most ardent supporters has been Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who also was one of the earliest proponents of building an underground Congressional visitor center.

On Wednesday, Mica expressed his regret over Hantman’s impending retirement and said that the first thing Congress should do after Hantman leaves Capitol Hill is hire him on as a private consultant for the CVC.

“Mr. Hantman is the most knowledgeable person in the universe in what’s undoubtedly the most complex construction project undertaken by the U.S. Capitol,” Mica said. “They may have other capable people, but there’s no one who knows the project better than Mr. Hantman.”

Mica added that Congress “could pay a very heavy price for playing games” and drawing out the search process to find a new AOC. “It’s going to take [the next AOC] a long time to get up to speed. It will be well into their term before they have any idea what’s going on with the CVC. … This project could go south very quickly.”

Congress last had to replace its top Architect when George White retired in November 1995, and Hantman was confirmed in February 1997. It took Congressional leaders until September 1996 to come up with three candidates to send to the White House for approval, and then-President Bill Clinton took more than three months to make his selection. After that, the Senate took another month to confirm the appointment.

When contacted Wednesday about the 10- to 14-month time frame to find the next AOC, officials at two government watchdog groups criticized such a lengthy search period, both arguing it will only hinder the CVC and other current AOC initiatives.

Hantman should have been urged to remain in his position until the CVC project is completed, said Citizens Against Government Waste Vice President Dave Williams, because turnover at the top spot will only create further problems.

But even if Hantman could not have been convinced, the search for a replacement already have should been well under way, he added.

“He gave a six-month notice, and now they need an additional 10 to 14 months,” Williams said. “They should have had someone in place by the time he left.”

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, described the overall selection process as “bizarre,” adding that other important posts are filled more efficiently.

“If you can find and confirm the secretary of Defense within a few months, the Architect of the Capitol shouldn’t take two, three times as long as that,” Williams said.

Williams also pointed to the Defense Department’s quick rebuilding of the Pentagon following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, saying while that is a unique case, the government can get things done efficiently if there is a desire to do so.

“It’s that they choose not to,” he said. “There is not a sense of urgency.”

Both predicted a new batch of problems for the CVC and other projects over the next few months.

“At the end of the day, not having an effective, warm body in that office means decisions will be deferred,” Ellis said. “And that’s going to cost taxpayers money.”

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