Obey Loses Veto Authority Over Visitor Center

Posted May 6, 2005 at 6:12pm

Progress on the House office space that will flank the Capitol Visitor Center is expected to move forward now that appropriators have circumvented a key lawmaker whose objections had recently stalled the project. But it remains unclear whether designs for the 85,000-square-foot space could still be altered.

Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, acknowledged last week that he was holding up the project over objections to the existing design, which he has referred to as a “tremendous misuse of space.”

Under a provision included in the fiscal 2002 legislative branch spending bill, both chambers’ Appropriations chairmen and ranking members have the right to block funds obligated for space designated to their respective wings as part of the visitor center project, now under construction on the Capitol’s East Front.

But the Wisconsin Democrat’s complaints could now go largely unheeded.

House lawmakers altered the provision when they passed the fiscal 2005 supplemental spending bill last week so that CVC spending now requires the approval of the full Appropriations panels, but not their leadership. The Senate is expected to pass a matching bill in the coming days.

“Essentially the provision conforms with the earlier requirements with the committee approving money,” said House Appropriations spokesman John Scofield.

Although Obey said Thursday he did not request the language be inserted into the spending bill, he acknowledged telling Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.): “If you still want to proceed … then you’ll have to take me out of the loop.”

During a hearing Wednesday, Obey disparaged plans for the House office space, which will be located along the visitor center’s southeast end, asserting the structure lacks sufficient work space for lawmakers and their staffs.

“To spend half a billion dollars and not get any more working space while you have that show-horse space is a joke,” Obey said Thursday in reference to the center’s projected $517 million price tag.

Although Obey had requested during the hearing that Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman review the existing plans, it is not clear whether the design will be revisited now that the Wisconsin lawmaker’s approval is no longer necessary.

“I want the changes. That’s what I’m after,” Obey said, although he added that his expectations remain low.

A spokeswoman for the AOC did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

In the meantime, the central visitor center facility — including the cafeteria, bathrooms and orientation theaters — is slated for completion in fall 2006, and House appropriators will continue to supervise its progress.

“We’re going to be closely monitoring the completion of the project and the start-up of operations of the facility,” Scofield said.

The fiscal 2005 supplemental spending bill also includes several other provisions for legislative branch agencies, including $11 million in appropriations for the Capitol Police.

The law enforcement agency will receive the funds for “general expenses,” including $2.6 million for “technical counter measures” used in construction of the visitor center.

A Capitol Police spokesman declined to elaborate on how those funds would be spent.

The department also received $8.4 million to replace the “escape hoods” located throughout the Capitol complex for use in toxic or biological emergencies.

The police had sought, but not received, similar funds in their fiscal 2005 budget.

Appropriators also designated $2.5 million to the Architect of the Capitol to provide an interim off-site delivery facility that will be used by the police to screen items destined for the Capitol or the House and Senate office buildings.

The current facility, located on P Street Southeast, sits on the site designated as the future home of the Washington Nationals’ stadium.

The Architect will also receive $1.6 million to design a permanent facility at D.C. Village, a complex made up of various government agencies located south of Anacostia near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Both amounts are significantly less than the AOC’s initial $23 million request, which Hantman told Senate appropriators in April was based on an earlier study of a site on New York Avenue.

Additionally, the bill provides $8.2 million to the AOC to complete the installation of perimeter security measures around the campus.