CVC Watch

Posted May 21, 2007 at 6:31pm

In selecting the Capitol Visitor Center’s third project executive in as many months, acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers looked to the Government Accountability Office to find the man who he hopes will bring the behind-schedule CVC in for a landing.

Bernard Ungar, who for almost two years has helped direct the GAO’s ongoing oversight of the CVC, will join the AOC on Wednesday to replace Doug Jacobs as Ayers’ point man on the project. [IMGCAP(1)]

Earlier this month, Jacobs stepped down from the post he had just been promoted to at the end of March when former Project Executive Bob Hixon retired. An e-mail circulated Monday on Capitol Hill by AOC officials announcing Ungar’s appointment said Jacobs will return to his previous position as CVC project administrator. The announcement cited “health reasons” for Jacobs’ move.

The decision to hire Ungar is particularly interesting because monthly CVC oversight hearings — which began in the Senate in mid-2005 and continue today in the House — have included a long-running theme: optimism from the AOC countered by the GAO, which has been much more the skeptic when it comes to providing Congressional overseers with completion deadlines and cost estimates. During most of those hearings, Ungar, who served as a GAO director, either provided testimony on behalf or sat in the audience behind fellow agency officials.

At the Senate’s very first monthly CVC progress hearing, Ungar stressed the need for the AOC to come up with a “realistic schedule that conforms to good scheduling practice. This has been a long-standing problem with the project.”

Ungar and fellow GAO Director Terrell Dorn have continued to stress that need in more recent hearings.

The AOC currently is estimating that the CVC will be open in the fall of 2008, but Dorn said last month that his agency is reviewing recent changes made to the project’s vital fire protection and security systems before coming up with its own estimate.

Ungar’s new role was met by enthusiasm by Congressional officials Monday.

Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), who as chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch during the 109th Congress began the monthly CVC oversight hearings, said in a statement that Ungar “has spent countless hours in the CVC project trailer and on the site and I’ve appreciated the helpful testimony he has provided to Congress each time he has appeared before the Subcommittee. Bernie Ungar has proven to be correct in his assessments of the project’s issues time and again and I look forward to working with him in the future.”

A spokeswoman for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) — who currently serves as chairwoman of the legislative branch appropriations subcommittee — said her boss believes Ungar is “a good choice. She appreciates GAO’s input on the project, and she believes that Bernie Ungar’s expertise will be of great value to the Architect of the Capitol in the final stages of completing the CVC.”

“Bernie has earned the trust and confidence of the Congress and the AOC,” read the AOC e-mail distributed Monday. “He knows the history of the CVC and has the working knowledge of this project. Mr. Ungar has been involved in a number of AOC management reviews and audits over the years, and he is very familiar with how AOC operates and will also help bridge the gap between the AOC and GAO.”