Library Seeks Money for AOC … for LOC

Posted February 9, 2007 at 6:45pm

It isn’t often that one legislative branch agency uses its appropriations request to seek funding for another, but that’s what the Library of Congress is doing in the fiscal 2008 budget.

Included in the LOC’s approximately $700 million request for next year is $43.9 million that subsequently would be transferred to the Architect of the Capitol’s office for the construction of the Library’s new Fort Meade Logistics Center.

Usually the AOC is the agency tasked with making all construction-related appropriations requests, and this year the Architect asked Congress for about $42.7 million for “mechanical and structural maintenance, care and operations” of the Library buildings and grounds. However, none of that money would go toward the logistics warehouse; thus, LOC officials took it upon themselves to ask Congress for the funds.

“I suppose the argument could be made that it’s unusual, but it’s a reflection of the high priority that we give this project,” said LOC spokesman Matt Raymond. “The Library has a number of high-priority projects, and the logistics center is one of those.”

The LOC complex at Fort Meade, Md., is a multifaceted project that has been in the works for the past several years, with a goal of providing the Library with a state-of-the-art facility in which it can store, preserve and protect the agency’s special collections. The first phase of the facility was opened in late 2002, and the AOC just broke ground in late January on two new “high-density collection storage modules.”

But last year the AOC’s efforts to move ahead with construction of the logistics warehouse component became a major concern to both House and Senate appropriators.

When the AOC asked Congress in last year’s appropriations cycle for $54 million to build the approximately 160,000-square-foot logistics center, Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), who served as chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch in the 109th Congress, said, “Questions have been raised as to whether the design for the warehouse is gold-plated and whether more cost-effective alternatives have been explored thoroughly.”

On the House side, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) noted his own concern over the cost of the warehouse and told LOC officials who testified then that “I think that you’re being ripped off by the Architect of the Capitol … as well as the Corps of Engineers,” which had been tapped to help build the project.

“It seems excessive,” Moran said at the time.

Raymond said that Librarian of Congress James Billington considers the construction of the new logistics warehouse “an issue of safety for our staff and collections,” and that this year’s $43.9 million proposal represents a pared-down funding request for the endeavor.

Raymond said Library administrators consider the conditions in the LOC’s current logistics center in Landover, Md., to be “unacceptable.”

Plus, LOC analysts estimate that the consolidation of collections and operations at the Fort Meade facility would result in savings of about $3 million a year.

“It’s a situation where short-term investment results in short-term gain,” Raymond said.

While the AOC had no comment about why money for the Fort Meade facility was not included in its own budget request this year, it appears that the new warehouse just wasn’t high enough on the Architect’s priority list.

Then-AOC Alan Hantman explained the prioritizing process in testimony submitted to House and Senate appropriators last year.

“It is obvious that for practical considerations of construction and fiscal restraint, we must spread out the funding and physical workload over the course of multiple years,” Hantman said. “Therefore, we have prioritized these projects to determine which are more critical than others. … While developing this budget, we reviewed many annual operating and capital project requests. We made difficult choices regarding funding AOC operations, new programs, and high priority capital projects, while at the same time balancing the day-to-day needs of those we serve.

Hantman said then that the AOC was working on conducting a facility condition assessments of the LOC in fiscal 2007 to survey the Library buildings to more fully understand the agency’s facility needs.

Raymond declined to discuss the AOC’s prioritizing process and would only say: “The logistics center will do a lot for us. … But there’s a lot of moving pieces right now and we’re going to continue to have a lot of discussion with Congress on this.”