Most of J. Brett Blanton’s nomination hearing before the Senate Rules Committee to be the next architect of the Capitol on Thursday was essentially a one-on-one public interview between him and Chairman Roy Blunt, as the remaining 18 members of the committee were absent for the majority of the hearing.
No opposition to Blanton, a Virginia resident, is evident, making him likely to be confirmed as the 12th architect of the Capitol. If confirmed, Blanton said he expects to start leading the agency by mid-January.
The lack of senators present at his nomination hearing does not underscore apathy, but the notion that there wasn’t any controversy associated with his selection to lead the office tasked with maintaining the Capitol complex facilities and renovations, according to Blanton.
“That it wasn’t controversial so that they didn’t have to come in,” Blanton said, adding that the congressional screening process was extensive and involved 14 different offices, including the minority and majority in both chambers.
Blanton is poised to bring stability to an agency that has been led by a succession of acting directors. He told Blunt, a Missouri Republican, that he plans to serve a full 10-year term. Acting director Christine Merdon announced her resignation in August and was replaced by Thomas Carroll, who holds the same acting title.
Blanton has more than 25 years of experience in facilities operations and construction management, most recently as deputy vice president for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, a background that gives Blunt confidence in Blanton’s ability to lead in government.
“[Blanton’s] probably one of the few people that can come from a job and say 3 million visitors every year is a big deal but maybe if you’ve been dealing with 50 million passengers every year, 3 million visitors a year sounds a little more manageable,” Blunt said.
In his current job, Blanton oversees construction at the authority’s locations. He is a retired Navy officer who earned a Bronze Star with Combat “V” for heroism in Iraq. He has a degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy and a graduate degree in ocean engineering from Virginia Tech.
Blanton will have to address a Cannon House Office Building renovation project that is behind schedule and could go $100 million over budget.
“I’ve only heard of that in the press,” Blanton said. “So I have to get briefings on it and figure out what the root cause is for the issue and come up with a plan for how we would address it.”
Additionally, Blanton will have to manage workforce management issues that have become public in recent years. The agency is set to be in district court over discrimination cases, and congressional oversight panels are expecting changes to staffing and workforce practices following a report from AOC Office of Inspector General in March.
“I will have a zero tolerance policy for harassment, discrimination or unethical behavior,” Blanton said. “We cannot expect to attract the nation’s top workforce without adapting and changing our culture.”
Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the office that issued a report regarding sexual harassment and staffing practices.