Kingston Continues Fight for Greater CVC Oversight

Posted July 15, 2003 at 6:49pm

Not backing down from his stated desire to bring greater oversight to the Capitol Visitor Center project, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) indicated at a hearing Tuesday that he intends to fight the Senate’s aim to provide additional funds until Hill leaders get a hold of the project’s scope.

Acknowledging that his subcommittee is getting in on the oversight “a little later than we would have liked,” Kingston said he nonetheless intends for his panel to make its presence felt from here forward.

“It is the position of this committee that we’re not going to spend the $48 million,” said Kingston. “We could get outgunned, … but it’s going to be difficult to outgun this committee.”

The General Accounting Office recently determined that the CVC project will need a $48 million infusion if it is to be finished as planned. The Senate included that amount in its version of the legislative branch appropriations bill passed out of committee this month.

The House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, which Kingston chairs, didn’t include any additional money for the CVC in the bill that the full committee sent to the floor this month. Tuesday’s hearing was held exclusively for CVC oversight.

The subcommittee called Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman to testify about the project and Comptroller General David Walker to answer questions about the GAO report, but most of the questions the panel had were directed through Hantman and Walker to the leadership and their staffs.

Both Democratic and Republican members of the subcommittee expressed concerns about how many decisions are made about the project — the sheer quantity of which increase the cost — without going through the Appropriations Committee.

“We’ve got to finalize the specifications and get a handle on the change orders,” Walker said, referring to the frequent design modifications.

“When an unelected staffer says this is what you’ve got to do, this committee [ought] to know about it,” Kingston told the Architect. “You need to be protected by a gatekeeping process.

“There appears that there’s just too many bosses day-by-day,” he added.

Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), a member of the panel, agreed.

“How many architects are involved in this project?” he asked rhetorically.

He told Walker that he had hoped the GAO report would suggest a visitor center “control board” because although it’s “very easy to sit here and take pot shots” at Hantman, ultimately the leaders in both chambers are directing the Architect.

“I had a very long discussion with the chief of staff for the Speaker of the House on this issue,” LaHood said of Scott Palmer, top aide to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

Walker replied that there already is such a body, the Capitol Preservation Commission. Comprised of House and Senate leadership and the chairman of the relevant committees, including Appropriations, the 18-member decision-making body has approved virtually all design decisions.

“The CPC is the body that is theoretically responsible and accountable, composed of many different people wearing many different hats,” Walker said.

“I wonder if the Capitol Preservation Committee maybe had some votes … and maybe did not [exert] the influence they should have,” Kingston said later in the hearing. He added that perhaps they were not all at the meetings or were not paying attention when various design elements were decided on.

In fact, the CPC has rarely met and usually makes signoff decisions individually, Member-by-Member, causing “votes” often to be drawn out over a month or more.

The weekly meetings on the project include AOC staff, representatives from the construction companies and more than a dozen staffers, most of whom represent the bicameral bipartisan leadership that makes up the CPC.

“There are a lot of players,” Walker said, noting that that adds complexity and controversy not seen in other projects. “One of the real problems here is who is in charge.”

“There’s an awful lot of people cooking the stew around here,” LaHood said, to which Kingston responded: “Well, this subcommittee may become the new cooking team.”

“We still have a number of undesigned items,” Kingston added, referring to exhibition space and House and Senate expansion.

Walker said he would be glad to write a letter stating that the rest of the design should be completed before the total cost could be estimated.

“I am happy to give you a letter that says these decisions need to be made,” he said.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) responded, “That will allow the chairman to start having meetings with the leadership.”