AOC Accuses Panels of Ruining Deal

Posted May 30, 2003 at 5:01pm

Testifying before an Appropriations panel late last month, Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman blamed procedural hurdles for preventing him from purchasing a new screening facility for the Capitol Police.

For years, the AOC has leased a building in Southeast D.C. where the police screen packages. The department was looking to buy the building near Third Street and New York Avenue Northeast, where they could establish a permanent, high-tech facility. Having reportedly lost out on that property to Pepco, the Capitol Police are now looking at other sites.

“We didn’t have the authority to negotiate,” Hantman told the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, explaining the unsuccessful purchase.

But Chairman Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) shot back that avoiding such problems in the future is simply a matter of better communication on the part of the Architect.

“Should something like that happen again” that could waste taxpayer dollars, “don’t hesitate, raise Cain, pick up the phone,” he said.

Hantman agreed to do so.

The incident put a focus on communications between the AOC and the relevant oversight and authorizing committees, contact that will be crucial as the Capitol Police seek out a new headquarters facility.

Before the Architect — who is also a member of the Capitol Police Board and oversees property acquisition for Congress — can negotiate for a property, the purchase has to be vetted by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, the House Administration Committee and both chambers’ Appropriations committees.

Hantman said at the hearing that the police board approved the procurement of the Northeast site in October 2002 and in November submitted the appropriate approval letters, but didn’t get an answer in time to bid on the property. He didn’t elaborate as to which committees held up the process other than telling Kingston his panel was part of the problem. (Kingston became chairman in January; North Carolina GOP Rep. Charles Taylor ran the subcommittee in the previous Congress.)

Asked to clarify what happened, AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki said, “Mr. Hantman responded directly to the subcommittee and doesn’t feel that he needs to make any additional comments.”

Hantman, however, didn’t elaborate on many of the subcommittee’s other questions either, instead telling the panel that he would submit answers for the record.

Malecki said Hantman “is working on answering the subcommittee’s questions” in writing.

Capitol Police spokeswoman Jessica Gissubel said department officials were frustrated they didn’t get the building.

“It is difficult because before any negotiating can go on, there are many people that need to authorize it,” Gissubel said. She explained that while the AOC researches a site for committee approval, brokers and other potential buyers find out, “making it an attractive site for anyone to purchase.”

Pepco reportedly bought the building in April. A spokesman for the power company couldn’t confirm whether the property was purchased.

The police have asked for $4.3 million in their fiscal 2004 budget for equipment and technology to outfit a new off-site screening facility.

“The Capitol Police will incorporate in the facility cutting-edge technologies to examine all incoming deliveries and stop any harmful packages from entering the Capitol complex,” Chief Terrance Gainer told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch early last month.