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Leaders Plan for CVC Governance

As one Senate staffer put it last week, Congressional leaders have “at long last” devised a governance plan for the new Capitol Visitor Center when it transitions from a construction project to a fully operational facility.

The delay in developing a governance plan had been caused, in part, by a disagreement between the House and Senate that boiled down to how much confidence either side has in the Architect of the Capitol’s office. In the end, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) developed a compromise that leans toward the Senate preference of keeping the CVC in the AOC chain of command.

According to one lawmaker, because officials have seen “some proven significant deficiencies with the AOC,” House Members wanted the CVC’s executive director to report directly to Congress outside of the AOC bureaucracy. Many of those concerns — including management practices, cost overruns and delays at the construction site — have been aired in recent hearings of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch.

Senate officials have “more confidence” in the AOC’s ability to handle the job, the lawmaker said.

Meanwhile, the lack of a management plan for the CVC had been cited by at least one Member in recent months as the reason why two individuals have turned down offers to run the massive new facility and a third withdrew from consideration before an offer was made.

In the end, the leaders decided that the administration and management of the new facility and its visitor services will be carried out within the AOC organization, but according to a letter signed by the top four lawmakers, “that conclusion is based on the condition that managing the operations and administration of the CVC shall be carried out as a separate, self-contained line of business for the AOC, independently run under the direct management of a Chief Executive Officer for Visitor Services.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the legislative branch subcommittee, noted Friday that in coming up with the governance plan, “a reasonable compromise” was reached among the leadership.

“Clearly this was not the House’s preference but we felt, and the Speaker ultimately decided, that the best thing and ultimately the most responsible thing was to move forward with getting the CVC’s fiscal house in order,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We’ve got to make sure we have some leadership, and continuing to leave the CVC’s management to the Architect, who is basically the only one dealing with it at this point, that would be more irresponsible.”

She added that the longer the CVC had uncertainty over its governance, “the more it hinders our ability to hire the best and brightest person.”

Following the decision, the Architect of the Capitol’s office organized a CVC “operations transition team” under the leadership of the agency’s chief administrative officer, David Ferguson, who will now be working full-time on transition issues leading up to the CVC’s opening, which according to recent construction reports will happen in September 2008.

The memorandum from leadership states that although the Architect will be responsible for the CVC, the “CEOVS” will conduct long-term planning, oversee day-to-day operations, develop the CVC budget each fiscal year, be responsible for the overall visitor experience and be the outside spokesman for the center. The CEOVS will be paid at the same rate as the AOC’s chief operating officer, the agency’s No. 2 official.

In addition, the new plan indicates that the Capitol Guide Service, which historically has had a separate appropriation within the legislative branch spending bill, will now be a part of the CEOVS branch under the AOC.

Tom Stevens, director of the Capitol Guide Service, could not be reached for comment Friday.

The memorandum further notes that oversight responsibility for CVC operations, “including the CEOVS and the Capitol Guide Service,” will rest with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and the House Administration Committee.

On Friday, House and Senate Members who have jurisdiction over the CVC expressed mixed reactions to the new governance plan.

“I’m glad they finally have this and it gets the ball rolling,” said Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), the ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch. “But the AOC, to me, is the last organization that needs added responsibility. Yet this is a decision that was made at the top level of leadership so now it gets punted to us to make it work.”

Wamp added that the AOC is currently “under the gun right by our committee, and so I think you’re going to see a reluctance somewhat on both sides to just march forward with this proposal even though we understand the top leaders have signed a letter saying this is the path we follow. I think all the committees who have a dog in this hunt ought to have the ability to say what’s the best way to make this work.”

On the other side of the Capitol, the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch had a much more positive take on the governance decision.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) “is supportive of the Capitol Visitor Center being a part of the Architect of the Capitol,” said spokeswoman Stephanie Allen. “She didn’t believe that it made sense for there to be another added layer of bureaucracy and have the CVC as a separate entity. All the buildings on the Capitol campus are under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol and she believed it made sense for the CVC to be as well.”

For Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), the ranking member of the legislative branch panel who held 15 CVC oversight hearing while chairman in the 109th Congress, “it boils down to some accountability,” said spokesman Steve Wymer.

“Is there some room to look at some past performance issues and be concerned? Possibly,” Wymer said. “But that’s why the Senator is going to stay engaged on this as he has been and will continue to monitor. This is a positive step forward in continuing the accountability that [Allard] has been asking for from [the AOC] for years now.”

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