CVC, House, Senate Food Contracts to Be Bid

Posted September 23, 2005 at 6:00pm

The Architect of the Capitol will release a request for proposals this week seeking a private corporation to run food service operations in the new Capitol Visitor Center and possibly take over dining services on both the House and Senate sides of the Capitol.

A year ahead of the AOC’s expected completion date for the CVC, officials said they wanted to begin the process of selecting a food service provider to finalize the contract by next September.

The main food service responsibility in the CVC will be a 550-seat cafeteria that will operate six days a week. Tom Fontana, CVC spokesman, said, “At this time, it is impossible to say how many food service staffers will be on board [at the CVC] until the actual operational policies and procedures have been established for that area.”

Officials said they hope to get responses from food service companies by late spring or early summer 2006. In order to bid on this contract, potential companies would have to submit a proposal on all three parts of Capitol Hill food services — the CVC and both the House and Senate dining facilities. But once those proposals are submitted, the AOC, along with various House and Senate oversight agencies, will decide whether to move forward with issuing the selected company responsibility for one, two or all three dining areas.

Currently, food service on the Senate side is run through the AOC’s office, while the House side began using a private hospitality management company to run its dining facilities in the 1980s.

AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki said the possibility of privatizing Senate dining operations is something that has been discussed on the Hill for years. In the 2005 legislative branch spending bill, appropriators specifically directed the Government Accountability Office to examine AOC operations, including food services, to see which duties could be handled more efficiently if they were privatized.

GAO spokesman Paul Anderson said work on the report is under way, but not yet complete.

“What has happened is that in discussions with appropriators and their staffs, we had to set priorities on the various mandates we were given, and they have agreed that the work we have done on the CVC, the Capitol Power Plant and other projects were higher priorities, so we’re working on that,” Anderson said. “In fact the work we’ve done on the CVC, the power plant and those other projects will contribute to the work we’re doing on AOC’s outsourcing.”

“Because the [fiscal 2005] appropriations legislation requires that we look at all AOC operations, it is therefore necessary for us to consider whether Senate restaurant services should be provided through a contractor in conjunction with the CVC operations,” said Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman. “The House of Representatives is also reviewing their food service operations as well.”

“The House will review the house proposal and on the Senate restaurant portion the AOC, [the] Senate Rules [and Administration Committee] and others will evaluate it to see if it makes sense and is the best value,” Malecki said. “The Senate side could go unchanged and the House could decide that it wants to opt out of this.”

Brian Walsh, spokesman for House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), said the current contract that the House has with Guest Services Inc. — which has provided dining services on the House side since 1997 — ends in December. But that contract will be renewed through 2007, he added.

Walsh said that, in general, the House has been pleased with GSI’s work, but that “it’s way too early at this point to say [what] direction the House will be going at the end of 2007.”

Allison Metzger, presentation and promotions manager at GSI, said the company “will absolutely evaluate the [AOC’s request for proposals] when it comes out, and if it meets our criteria, we will absolutely submit a bid.”

On Friday, Hantman spent the day meeting with the 108 AOC employees on the Senate restaurant staff to allay any concerns that privatization would mean a loss in pay or benefits.

“There are two key points I want to emphasize,” Hantman said. “As we go through this process, no changes will occur in Senate restaurant operations for approximately one year … [and] if a decision is made to contract out the restaurants, everyone who stays on with the contractor will maintain their current pay and keep their current benefits,” including health and life insurance.

“If Senate food services were to be contracted out, and if employees choose to retire or resign, there will be a buyout program,” Malecki added.

This week’s request for proposals marks the first operations component of the CVC to get under way, and it comes even as various House and Senate oversight committees continue to debate exactly how the new facility will be managed.

In the fiscal 2006 legislative branch appropriations bill, conferees removed a Senate provision that would have allowed the AOC to create an executive director post to oversee the visitor center. Instead, House Members pushed for a “governance board” with hired staff to oversee the center.

The CVC’s Fontana said, “Regarding an executive director, I can only say … that we are working with the Capitol Preservation Commission on a draft position description for the CVC executive director. Together we hope to move the process forward so we can advertise the position and have that person on board by January 2006.”

Fontana added that the executive director, once hired, would then hire the required visitor-services staff and work to put policies in place to allow for the opening of the CVC, which was recently pushed back to December 2006.