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‘Lessons’ Unlearned

Back in February 2006, at a hearing where the bad news came in that the Capitol Visitor Center wouldn’t open until about now — the target date, of course, has now slipped to September 2008 — Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) called for the Architect of the Capitol and the Government Accountability Office to prepare a CVC “lessons learned” report to help Congress better manage future projects.

Some sort of report was duly prepared, but it has never been released. There’s a difference of opinion about whether it can or should be released. If it can be, it should be — perhaps in redacted form. If it can’t, Congress and the public deserve to know in another form how large Capitol Hill projects can be managed in the future.

A spokesman for Allard, former chairman and now ranking member on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, told Roll Call that the report his boss requested is only two-and-a-half pages long and contains “proprietary” information making it unfit for release.

The AOC’s spokeswoman said the office won’t release it because “the report is not the AOC’s to release. It was written at the request of Congress and therefore belongs to Congress. The information in the report is considered procurement sensitive because it could impact future negotiation of the contract settlement.”

However, in February, as part of a report on AOC management, the GAO suggested that the report was substantial, covering “practices that could be applied to the AOC’s future projects and practices that could have been done better or differently.

“The lessons learned covered four areas — acquisition planning and policy; decision-making, coordination and communication; project and contract management; and worksite safety and security — and included such lessons as the importance of communicating with all relevant stakeholders and identifying and mitigating risks early in the development of a major construction project.”

What makes this report relevant now is that the CVC is finally nearing completion at a cost of about $600 million — more than double the original estimate — and the acting AOC has proposed a new agenda of projects that need to be completed in the next five to 10 years that total $900 million. Meanwhile, disputes continue over whether CVC delays and overruns were or weren’t the result of bad management.

Just this week, for instance, the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste again branded the CVC “Pig Dig” and cited Congress’ possible renaming of its Great Hall to be Emancipation Hall — at a cost of $250,000 — as another example of mismanagement. But Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, defended most CVC extensions as needed for post-Sept. 11 security.

The bottom line here is that Congress needs — and the taxpayers deserve — a full accounting of the CVC’s lessons learned. Otherwise $900 million in future projects could end up costing $2 trillion and repairs to underground utility tunnels — to cite one project — could take until 2050 to complete.

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