Even as Congressional oversight of the Capitol Visitor Center has been handled by House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees over the past several years, other folks have been itching to get in on the fun. [IMGCAP(1)]
On Friday the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on economic development, public buildings and emergency management will hold a morning hearing to look into the CVC visitor experience in terms of transportation, access, security and visuals.
Emphasizing the “public buildings” component of her subcommittee’s jurisdiction, Chairwoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said her hearing will focus mainly on CVC operational issues along with management challenges facing the Architect of the Capitol.
Both of those issues, along with construction management and project cost, have been ongoing themes in hearings before Appropriations subcommittees on the legislative branch. During the 109th Congress, Senate appropriators held 15 monthly hearings on the CVC. House appropriators have continued the tradition of monthly progress hearings in the 110th Congress.
Norton said on Monday that her hearing is a first important step in reasserting the role of Congressional authorizing committees into the CVC oversight process.
“My subcommittee has done no oversight over the CVC, and that’s part of the problem,” Norton said of the repeated delays that have come to define the project. “The authorizers have a function that goes unfulfilled and what we have done is force the appropriators to handle oversight. … As a result there’s been nobody to look at this project except in funding terms. But this is not simply a funding matter.”
Norton said that after Members authorized the construction of the CVC in the late 1990s, jurisdiction over the project became muddled as, at least on the House side, the Republican leadership first moved the project under the Speaker of the House before appropriators picked up the CVC and its various issues.
“But the majority never took back the authorizing responsibility,” Norton said. So when Norton and subcommittee ranking member Sam Graves (R-Mo.) met at the beginning of the 110th Congress, they agreed “that it was time to reclaim our jurisdiction over the Architect of the Capitol. … I am going to be as tough as the appropriators have been on management and funding.”
Norton also suggested that if committees that have jurisdiction over the AOC had done more under the Republican majority to assert their oversight roles, then perhaps Congress might not be dealing with the serious health and safety issues that exist in the Capitol’s utility tunnel system.
While appropriators have relied on the Government Accountability Office during recent years’ hearings on the CVC, Norton said she plans to bring in experts from the executive branch, including officials from the General Services Administration, to look into the operational side of the CVC and how the AOC can function more effectively.
“I’m looking very closely at recommendations we can make to how this office ought to be structured,” she said. “One really has to step back and understand that this job … is not an architecture position in the 19th-century sense of the word. It’s time to step back and look at it with fresh eyes.”
Norton added that in preparation for Friday’s hearing she took a tour of the CVC for the first time on Monday.
“It was always going to be gorgeous and beautiful,” she said. “But you can’t help but be impressed. … I think most people conceive the visitors center as a walk-through place to get to the Capitol, but it is a part of the Capitol in every sense of the word.”