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Capitol Complex Faces Another Tough Budget

Leaders of Congressional support agencies, already working with less after a bare-bones fiscal 2012 budget, were warned that 2013 won’t be any better. In fact, it might be worse.

In the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch’s first hearing of the year today, the Architect of the Capitol, Librarian of Congress, and executive directors of the Open World Leadership Center and the Office of Compliance defended their budget requests to Chairman Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and ranking member John Hoeven (R-N.D.).

Both lawmakers offered sobering outlooks for the offices looking for boosted funding in the upcoming fiscal year, particularly the Architect of the Capitol, which wants $668.2 million, nearly 18 percent more than its current allocation.

Nelson warned that although last year was difficult, this year’s budget will require “equally tough decisions.”

He acknowledged that the AOC finds itself in a bind, balancing fiscal realities with a need to address a series of maintenance projects that, if deferred, could result in serious safety issues.

Those needs include restoring deteriorating structures within aging House and Senate office buildings, refurbishing the Capitol Dome and upgrading the power plant chiller to provide air conditioning on hot summer days.

“Despite our best efforts to anticipate and make needed repairs, as these facilities continue to age, they become more difficult and costly to maintain,” Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers said. “Making the necessary improvements and upgrades to Congressional facilities will require significant investment.”

He was not the only one to plead for relief this afternoon.

Librarian of Congress James Billington is requesting a fiscal 2013 budget that is basically frozen at the agency’s fiscal 2012 allocation of $587 million. Adjusted only for inflation, that amounts to a 2.8 percent increase.

“We are seeking funding just to maintain current core services,” Billington said, adding that reduced funding over the past year necessitated the implementation of a voluntary buyout and early retirement program for 186 staffers.

“[It] meant losing institutional memory in some highly specialized areas of research and curation,” he said.

John O’Keefe, who heads the Open World Leadership Center exchange program, is also requesting a flat-lined budget and likewise emphasized that a move to cut below the $10 million request could hinder operations.

Tamara Chrisler, the executive director of the Office of Compliance, which handles workplace safety and other issues for Capitol campus personnel, is requesting $398,000, or less than 1 percent, above the office’s fiscal 2012 allocation.

She said tight budgets in years past have required laying off an attorney, cutting inspectors’ hours by nearly half, eliminating technical assistance, reducing rates of hearing officers, eliminating training for local employees and postponing maintenance on an electronic case-tracking system that “continues to crash.”

“The job we’ve been doing … is not the job you deserve,” Chrisler said. “Budget cuts seriously threaten our ability to ensure the safety and accessibility of the Congressional workplace and the confidential resolution of workplace disputes. … Any further cuts will be cutting limbs.”

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