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McCain Takes Swipe at Cannon Refurbishment

Ayers discusses the Cannon project. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As crews refurbish the Cannon House Office Building, Sen. John McCain says the project is wasting taxpayer money.  

As part of his "America's Most Wasted" series, the Arizona Republican listed the Cannon Renewal Project as one of 10 examples of unnecessary spending. The $752.7 million, 10-year project will revitalize the oldest congressional office building, but McCain said the price is concerning. "While the building is certainly in need of repair, the three-quarters-of-a-billion dollar cost projection and the 10-year construction time frame have raised eyebrows," read the report, released Thursday.  

The report did not include other Architect of the Capitol projects, such as the Dome restoration and the five-phase renovation of McCain's own office building, where work is expected to begin in 2016. Appropriators allocated nearly $21 million in fiscal 2014 and 2015 for the first two phases of the project to give the Russell Senate Office Building a face lift, repairing the facade and windows and doors.  

"This first report only focused on 10 pork projects — we obviously can't include every one," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers wrote in an email when asked about the Cannon project." [Cannon]'s the most costly AOC project and has a timeline of a decade."  

McCain's report drew criticism from the top Democrat on the House panel that funds the AOC and its projects.  

“[E]ssential renovations to a large, historic building that help make the workplace safer for Members, staff, and Capitol complex employees is money worth spending," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the ranking member on the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. "Senator McCain’s report, like always, places a higher priority on grabbing headlines with a snappy title than on actually explaining to the American people the way government spends money.”  

McCain's report called for "strong oversight" over the project, citing two Government Accountability Office analyses that raised questions about AOC cost estimate processes. Wasserman Schultz said the committee has used the GAO for oversight of the project. The panel commissioned one of the GAO reports McCain cited.  

The 2014 GAO report  said the Cannon estimate was "substantially comprehensive, well documented, and accurate, but several factors that affect its credibility are lacking." Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers responded in a letter, saying the AOC has "a robust cost estimating process that embraces industry best practices and produces credible and reliable results."  

Asked for a comment on McCain's charge, an AOC spokesperson pointed to a January event where Ayers and House Office Buildings Superintendent William Weidemeyer outlined the necessity of the Cannon project.  

“The century-old building is plagued by safety, health, environmental and operational issues that are rapidly worsening,” Weidemeyer said at the time. “These systems are deteriorating or inoperable and unable to meet the current or future needs of the Congress.”  

Some lawmakers tasked with providing funding for the project have also been concerned about the cost. Garrett Hawkins, a spokesman for Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Graves, R-Ga., said Graves was well aware of the need for oversight.  

“Months ago, Rep. Graves came to the same conclusion as yesterday’s report by Sen. McCain that members of Congress must take a more active oversight role to ensure the Cannon project stays on time and on budget, which is why he included new oversight and transparency features in the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill," Hawkins wrote in an email.  

The bill, approved by the House Appropriations Committee April 30, includes language that stipulates the AOC cannot allocate more than 25 percent of funds for a project of more than $5 million until the committee and the comptroller general approve a plan that includes changes to a project's timeline and cost. Wasserman Schultz warned the mechanism was "duplication."  

Related: Work Begins on 10-Year Cannon Renewal Project  Projected Price Tag for Dome Restoration Might Not Be Reliable The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.