CVC Watch

Posted April 30, 2007 at 6:32pm

Since the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch began holding monthly progress hearings on the Capitol Visitor Center earlier this year, some panel members have gravitated toward certain issues so much so that their lines of questioning have become predictable. [IMGCAP(1)]

For instance, Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) always can be counted on to use his time to ask about the environmental or energy impacts of the 580,000-square-foot facility being built beneath the East Front of the Capitol.

Ranking member Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) is becoming known as the go-to guy when it comes to naming issues at the CVC. The Volunteer State Congressman is championing a push to rename the CVC’s Great Hall to avoid confusion with the space with the same name that currently exists in the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building.

Meanwhile, Vice Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) has continued to question acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers about how much of the CVC’s various contracts have been set aside for small businesses, particularly those owned by women and minorities.

Last week, AOC officials noted that the lead contractor, Manhattan Construction, had set a number of such goals at the outset of its efforts.

When Manhattan began its work in 2003 on the “sequence two” phase of construction, the company set a goal of using small-business subcontractors for 35 percent of the project’s contract value. Manhattan also set a target to award 12 percent of the contract value to small, disadvantaged businesses and 8 percent of the contract for women-owned small businesses.

(Originally, Manhattan’s sequence two work — which includes the mechanical, electric, plumbing and other “fit out” needs of the CVC — was expected to cost around $144 million. As of last week the price tag for Manhattan’s work was about $224 million.)

According to Ayers and CVC Project Executive Doug Jacobs, Manhattan has had varying levels of success in meeting its internal goals.

As the sequence two work winds down, about 32.9 percent of the contract value has gone to small businesses, 4.1 percent of the contract has gone to small, disadvantaged businesses and 8.5 percent has gone to women-owned small businesses.

(According to the Small Business Administration, in 2003 — the last year for which the agency has statistics — the national average of federal subcontracting work that went to small businesses was 38.17 percent.)

CVC spokesman Tom Fontana explained this week that there are no specific penalties for Manhattan not meeting one of its targets because those numbers were internal goals set by Manhattan.

In a previous hearing, Lee explained her concern that “if we don’t insist that the goals are met and if good-faith efforts are made but aren’t achieved, then there becomes a problem. And I just want to make sure that whatever good-faith efforts were made were accomplished.”

With construction efforts winding down at the CVC and the AOC having been tapped to bring the operational components of the CVC online over the next year and a half, Lee expressed her hope last week that the Architect would hold future contractors accountable for meeting goals when it comes to the use of women- and minority-owned small businesses.

In other CVC news, House Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) attended last week’s CVC hearing and got involved in an interesting exchange with AOC officials when he tried to establish some perspective for a project that is always talked about in terms of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent and hundreds of thousands of square feet of space allocated.

Lewis simply asked the AOC team to estimate what the CVC was going to cost per square foot when it is finished.

Jacobs said that the project would likely come in at about $900 per square foot.

“I was involved in refurbishing my home in California several years ago,” Lewis responded. “My wife decided to redo the kitchen twice. In that process I learned from my architect that in building a home from scratch or remodeling, it would be outrageous for it to be anywhere near $200 a square foot. When you start talking about $900 a square foot I must say this is not the Taj Mahal, but I wonder.”