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Capitol Facing Major Maintenance Backlog

Already facing a $1.4 billion backlog of maintenance and capital renewal projects, legislative branch appropriators bickered Wednesday over the value of energy-use meters set to be installed this spring on the Congressional campus.

The 130 meters would monitor all utilities on the House side, including water, steam, electricity and natural gas, acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers told members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.

Television monitors displaying the chamber’s real-time energy use also would be installed in several House buildings, with the entire project expected to cost $4.3 million, Ayers added.

But with Members already needing to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to repair and upgrade the complex’s crumbling infrastructure, the meters are not a good value, argued ranking member Tom Latham (R-Iowa).

“You’ve got a hole in the roof, you don’t go out and buy meters to find out how much energy is being used,” Latham said. “You fix the hole in the roof.”

Subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) countered with her own metaphor: “If you are dieting, you don’t know how much you need to lose unless you have a scale,” she said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) directed the AOC to begin work on metering in a Nov. 30 letter, and she set a May completion deadline for the project. By statute, Congress must cut its energy consumption by at least 30 percent within 10 years; Pelosi’s Green the Capitol Initiative sets a 50 percent reduction goal.

Various energy-related statutes require federal buildings to be metered to monitor energy use. But there is some concern that the entire House Building Commission — made up of Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) — wasn’t notified of the planned installation beforehand, Latham said.

And with the AOC requesting $643 million for fiscal 2009 — the bulk of that going to maintenance projects — meters might not be the best funding option, he added.

Wasserman Schultz maintained that the No. 1 priority of the subcommittee remains addressing the maintenance backlog, specifically funding the projects dealing with life-safety concerns. But that doesn’t mean other needs can’t be tackled, she added.

“I am hoping we aren’t going to quibble about this,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Everybody seemed to agree on Wednesday that Congress must begin to tackle the bulky backlog of maintenance and renewal projects.

The AOC’s $642.7 million fiscal 2009 request is a 55 percent increase over what was appropriated in fiscal 2008, and Ayers told the panel that he understands the agency will not receive everything they are asking for.

But Ayers added that Members must be aware that the “wave of unfunded requirements continues to grow.”

“It is fiscally responsible to request the funding needed now instead of waiting until facilities are in crisis and beyond repair, thereby costing millions more,” Ayers testified.

The 100-year-old Cannon House Office Building is one of the biggest concerns. There are numerous life-safety and electrical issues in Cannon that require immediate attention; to fix them, the building needs “a top-to-bottom renovation,” Ayers said.

Current plans call for renovations to begin in 2012, one floor at a time, Ayers said. All Member offices would remain in Cannon, while certain staffers and committees would temporarily be housed in the former Food and Drug Administration Building, located at Second and C streets Southwest.

Before the renovations can begin, AOC and other officials need to complete security enhancements at the old FDA facility, now known as Federal Office Building 8.

About $19 million already has been appropriated for security upgrades at the FDA building, Ayers said. Additional security needs could reach up to $50 million, he said, and a yearly lease at the facility is expected to cost $10 million to $15 million. The actual renovation of Cannon is expected to cost about $450 million, Ayers said.

The AOC also requested about $127 million to repair dangerous utility tunnels beneath the Capitol complex.

In 2006, the Office of Compliance formally cited the AOC for the tunnels, which were filled with asbestos and other safety hazards. AOC and OOC officials signed a settlement agreement in May 2007, giving the AOC until June 2012 to complete tunnel repairs.

The $300 million tunnel project began last year. Repairs are on schedule and on budget, Ayers said. Work done this year is expected to be the most expensive of the entire project, he said.

A number of capital projects also need to be funded, Ayers said, including tackling egress improvements in the Longworth House Office Building; making improvements to smoke control systems in the John Adams Building at the Library of Congress and the grand stairs in the Capitol; and conducting various energy conservation studies.

And on top of all those needs, the Capitol Visitor Center is set to open in November. The AOC will need $31 million to complete that project, Ayers said.

It remains unclear which projects will be funded in fiscal 2009. Wasserman Schultz said the budget would “deal with the must-haves, the gotta-haves, the essentials,” rather than the “gee, it would be nices.”

“We are going to have to make some tough choices,” she said.

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