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AOC Needs $900 Million for Fixes

The Architect of the Capitol has identified $300 million in “past due” maintenance work on the Capitol campus and another $600 million worth of fixes for “unacceptable conditions” of building components that will exceed their useful lifespans in the next five to 10 years.

And that doesn’t include cost estimates for problems at the aging Library of Congress buildings, which the agency has yet to complete.

The Capitol complex “is a small city with an aging physical infrastructure,” said acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers, who presented his agency’s latest cost estimates to the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch on Tuesday.

The hearing offered the panel an opportunity to assess the AOC’s long-range facility planning initiatives and, as subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said, to “get beyond budgeting fiscal year to fiscal year.”

(Ayers is scheduled to appear before the subcommittee again on Thursday to testify specifically about his agency’s approximately $472 million fiscal 2008 budget request.)

Subcommittee ranking member Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) called Tuesday’s hearing an opportunity to put Congressional planning into context “and see the big picture in the shadow of the” Capitol Visitor Center, which has become the most visible and publicized building project on Capitol Hill since ground was broken on the facility almost seven years ago.

In the end, Members on both sides of the aisle expressed frustration and concern over the plan Ayers presented for prioritizing the construction and maintenance work that needs to be done on Capitol Hill over the next several years.

Wasserman Schultz pointed out that one AOC project the agency considered to be in the top 10 for funding requests in fiscal 2007 did not make the top 25 this year, and she questioned why building new off-site storage modules for the Library ranked higher on the AOC’s priority list than a project to increase security for the House chamber.

“I think the people in the chamber should be considered a higher priority than the stuff in the storage facility,” the chairwoman said.

She called the process by which the AOC creates its long-range prioritization plan “puzzling” and at one point noted that it should be the job of elected Members — particularly oversight committees and leadership — to “do the prioritizing” and decide which projects should and should not be funded.

As Members questioned the acting Architect on everything from cell phone reception to office space issues, a few of the AOC’s potential plans for the future of the House side were discussed.

One of the overarching themes was the shortage of parking on Capitol Hill in general and on the House side in particular.

Ayers acknowledged that maintenance work in the House underground garages will account for the most immediate needs facing the House in the next five years. While the Cannon Building garage is “in good shape,” according to Ayers, the Rayburn Building garage is in need of immediate repairs while the underground garage across from the Longworth Building is in even worse shape.

One plan the AOC is considering is to build a new parking structure on the House side to accommodate parking needs while it shuts down the House garages to make repairs.

But as AOC officials contemplate accommodating room for cars they also are attempting to relieve the physical space crunch that currently works out to about 35 square feet of space per person on the House side. (The General Services Administration recommends about 60 square feet.)

To fix the space crunch a number of solutions have been proposed, including reconfiguring the Rayburn garage into office space, constructing a new building and having the AOC assume control of about 200,000 square feet of space in the old Food and Drug Administration building, which sits across the street from the Ford Building. The FDA building would then be used for committee staff.

The AOC’s superintendent of House office buildings, Frank Tiscione, said Congress could occupy the FDA building as early as 2009 or 2010, and he called the building “a good location for swing space” as the AOC has to shut down other offices as a result of maintenance or renewal projects in the coming years.

But in the more immediate future, Wasserman Schultz and Wamp said a major concern of the subcommittee on the legislative branch after reviewing the AOC’s fiscal 2008 budget is the agency’s request for more than $111 million in fiscal 2008 to operate and maintain the Capitol Power Plant (a facility that despite its name does not produce electricity but supplies steam and chilled water to the complex).

In discussing the item that accounts for almost a quarter of the AOC’s budget request, Wamp wondered if a more cost-effective solution could be found and Wasserman Schultz promised Ayers that her committee would be looking more closely into that facility to see if changes ought to be made.

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