CVC Costs Could Rise by $100 Million

Posted November 18, 2004 at 5:40pm

Newly released budget estimates for the Capitol Visitor Center show the construction project may need up to $100 million in additional funds, potentially ballooning the project’s total cost to more than a half-billion dollars.

Budget estimates prepared by the Government Accountability Office predict an additional $50 million to $100 million may be needed to complete the 588,000-square-foot subterranean center, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) confirmed Wednesday night.

The CVC, which received a $48 million infusion in fiscal 2004, currently has a $421 million price tag.

A spokeswoman for Kingston said Thursday that the Georgia lawmaker, who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, is “very concerned, very upset” about the estimates included in a quarterly budget and status report on the project.

Detailed information about the proposed budget increase was not available late Thursday afternoon, but spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said: “It’s overall a management-oriented issue that has caused several overruns in several different areas of the project.”

Hing said it is unlikely lawmakers will attempt to insert funds into the omnibus appropriations bill, which is expected to be voted on Friday.

The subcommittee, however, is in discussions with GAO officials about the budget assessment, Hing said, and could convene an investigation or hearings on the CVC’s financial affairs. “We’re trying to pinpoint exactly what parts of the CVC have been mismanaged and why,” she added.

A spokesman for Rep. Jim Moran (D), the subcommittee’s ranking member, said in a statement that the Virginia lawmaker supports a hearing on the new budget estimates.

“Congressman Moran is very troubled by the latest projected cost overruns,” spokesman Austin Durrer said in a written statement. “These figures represent at least the third time that the price tag has gone up for the CVC’s completion. Mr. Moran joins Chairman Kingston in calling for a full Legislative Branch Subcommittee hearing into the matter.”

A spokesman for retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), who chairs his chamber’s legislation branch Appropriations subcommittee, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

CVC spokesman Tom Fontana declined to discuss specific cost estimates for the project, stating that GAO has yet to complete briefings with Congressional lawmakers.

“It would be premature and irresponsible to talk about any figures at this time, until the formal process is completed,” Fontana said.

Fontana did acknowledge, however, that delays — ranging from record wet weather in 2003 to unexpected site conditions, such as inaccurately documented utility lines — have pushed backed the center’s completion date and resulted in additional costs.

“If you’ve got contractors who have to stay on the site four months longer than originally expected … you have to accommodate those additional costs,” Fontana said.

In addition, Fontana noted, those delays have caused troublesome overlaps for contractors hired to complete two separate construction phases. The first focused on excavation, construction of exterior walls and a new service tunnel, while the second phase will include mechanical, electrical, plumbing and finishing work inside the structure, now slated to open in summer 2006.

Since Congress first commissioned the CVC’s design in 1995 — estimates originally put the center at $125 million, which lawmakers had expected to fund through private donations — it has grown significantly in both cost and scope.

By the time Congressional leaders broke ground on the project in 2000, with hopes the center would be completed by the January 2005 inauguration (the AOC now states that only a portion of the roof deck will be finished by that deadline), the project’s price tag stood at $265 million.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, lawmakers expanded original plans for the facility, and appropriated $38.5 million for security enhancements, along with an additional $70 million for the completion of “shell” space allocated for the House and Senate on each side of the visitor center.