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AOC Requests Sharply Higher Budget

Acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers on Thursday told a House subcommittee that years of deferred maintenance in the Capitol’s complex meant his agency would require a 20 percent budget increase in fiscal 2010.

For the first time in years, however, the AOC budget did not include money for construction of the Capitol Visitor Center.

“First off, I’m thrilled that there is not any request for funds for construction of the CVC,— House Appropriations Subcommittee on Legislative Branch Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said to applause. The CVC opened on Dec. 2, 2008.

Ayers, who has served as Acting Architect of the Capitol since February 2007, detailed his agency’s request for $644.6 million in the upcoming fiscal year, up from $540 million in the current fiscal year.

He told members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Legislative Branch that the AOC has analyzed projects around the Capitol complex and ranked their urgency according to historic legacy, safety, physical security and energy efficiency, among other factors.

In particular, he said, were two high-priority projects: the renovation of the crumbling East House Underground Garage and another to study the renovation of the Cannon House Office Building, which was completed in 1908 and is the oldest Congressional office building on the Hill.

Part of the AOC budget includes the CVC, which its CEO, Terrie Rouse, said was bringing in a much larger number of guests than had come to the Capitol in the previous year. Rouse noted that more than 800,000 guests have come through the CVC since it opened, a total that is likely to result in double the number of visitors to the Capitol than in the previous year.

Rouse defended her request for a bigger operating budget — $24.6 million in fiscal 2010 versus $19 million in fiscal 2009 — by explaining that the center is hiring more full-time employees, including more tour guides and assistants to help staffers lead tours. This will be the first operating budget to cover an entire year as well, she said.

Members also discussed the Green the Capitol Initiative and the ongoing utility tunnels project.

“We are ahead of schedule, and we are under budget,— Ayers said of the tunnels project. He said it was originally expected to cost a total of $295 million, but now is only expected to cost $186 million.

New CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf asked for the smallest budget increase of any of the legislative branch agencies, Wasserman Schultz said, a 5 percent hike to $46.4 million for fiscal 2010.

The bulk of the new money would cover the expansion of staff, which is slated to increase to 254 full-time employees, he said.

Most new staffers would be experts in health care and financial services, two areas where the CBO is receiving an increasing number of requests from Congress.

“The financial crisis and the government’s response to it have greatly increased the demand for the CBO’s work,— he said.

Elmendorf, who was a CBO health care analyst in the mid-1990s, added that the “silver lining— of the financial crisis has been that experts leaving private firms are more willing to take lower-paying jobs at the CBO.

Among the staffers lining the walls of the small hearing room were a few younger faces. In honor of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, subcommittee ranking member Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) brought his daughter, Mary Elliott, who was celebrating her 10th birthday. Elmendorf also brought his two daughters, while Wasserman Schultz added that her son was waiting with the University of Florida football team in her office.

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