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Ayers Confirmed as Architect of Capitol

Stephen Ayers was finally confirmed as the Architect of the Capitol last week, after spending more than three years as the agency’s “interim” leader who oversaw the completion of the Capitol’s largest-ever expansion, a presidential inauguration and numerous efforts to make the Capitol complex more energy efficient.

It’s still unclear why the White House took so long to nominate Ayers, whom Congress recommended for the position years ago. The selection process did have some obstacles; at one point, one of the three candidates Congress sent to the White House dropped out. And in the past year, some Members have attempted to cut the executive branch out of the selection process entirely, reasoning that the AOC is primarily a legislative branch agency.

In the meantime, Ayers has run an agency with a budget of $600 million that has taken on an expanded role, mostly due to Congress’ recent dedication to greening the Capitol complex.

Last week, Ayers declined to be interviewed, citing a busy schedule in the wake of his confirmation. Instead, he released a statement calling the Senate’s confirmation a “wonderful honor and privilege.”

“I appreciate the trust the Congress has placed in me, and for the support it has given our organization, and I thank President Obama for nominating me,” he said in the statement. “I am extremely proud to have been selected to lead the AOC team. Our many accomplishments and successes have truly been a team effort. I look forward to the work and the challenges ahead.”

Ayers got his beginning as an architect in the Air Force. After being commissioned as an officer, he served as a staff architect at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He was promoted to design team chief and captain before resigning his commission.

He began working at the AOC in 1997 as an assistant superintendent for the Senate office buildings. He worked his way up to deputy architect and chief operating officer in 2006, and he took over as acting Architect when Architect Alan Hantman retired in 2007.

Ayers’ experience as an architect is one of the main reasons the architecture community has been calling for years for his confirmation. Technically, the head of the AOC does not have to be an architect, owing to the position’s focus on management.

Last week, the American Institute of Architects heralded the confirmation as “a compelling endorsement of Mr. Ayers’ performance.”

“For the Senate to confirm Stephen Ayers so quickly and on such a bipartisan basis is itself an endorsement of the profession as well as Mr. Ayers’ steady hand as he led the Architect of the Capitol’s office for the last three years,” AIA President George Miller said.

Ayers’ 10-year appointment follows the rocky tenure of Hantman, who oversaw the agency during a period of immense growth. But Hantman is most remembered for his part in overseeing the design and construction of the Capitol Visitor Center, a 580,000-square-foot underground extension of the Capitol. By the time Hantman retired, the CVC was hundreds of millions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule. Though some of that was the result of design additions and security changes, approved by Congress, Hantman became a controversial figure among Members.

Ayers, however, has gained a good reputation among both Democrats and Republicans. House Administration ranking member Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) said Ayers demonstrates “the caliber of leadership to run such an intricate organization.” And members of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee gave Ayers glowing reviews during his confirmation hearing last month.

Now, Ayers will inevitably focus on making the House and Senate office buildings and the Capitol more energy-efficient through several planned renovations. The AOC has partnered with private companies to get millions of dollars of facility infrastructure upgrades that promise to cut down Congress’ energy usage. The agreements, called Energy Savings Performance Contracts, allow private companies to pay the upfront costs. Congress then repays them plus interest, with the savings realized from improved energy efficiency.

Ayers has also begun working with Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard to implement Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) Green the Capitol initiative. The two agencies recently released their first joint report on their greening efforts. In a statement last week, Beard said he was “thrilled” about Ayers’ confirmation.

“He’s the right person for the job,” he said. “As Acting Architect, he has been instrumental in implementing Speaker Pelosi’s Green the Capitol program. I look forward to working with Stephen to continue to advance the House’s sustainability program.”

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