As he took over the reins of a project that according to the Architect of the Capitol is about 95 percent complete, Bernard Ungar said it seems “more unlikely than likely” that the Capitol Visitor Center is going to open by the AOC’s latest predicted date of September 2008. [IMGCAP(1)]
“As you know the project has kept slipping continuously and it’s going to be a real challenge,” Ungar said in an interview last week.
Few people understand better than Ungar the history of the project and the many problems the CVC still has to overcome before opening its doors to the public.
In his previous job at the Government Accountability Office, Ungar studied the CVC during its conceptual phase. In the seven years since ground was broken, he has conducted various reviews of the construction effort for the GAO — where he served as a director overseeing physical infrastructure issues — long before Congress began holding monthly progress hearings in mid-2005. And after he retired from the GAO, Ungar was rehired on a contract basis to help continue efforts to monitor the CVC for the House and Senate.
Ungar took the AOC post after the previous project executive stepped down earlier this month, citing health reasons.
Coming on board as the AOC’s new point man on CVC construction, it’s no surprise that Ungar said that preventing slippages in the project schedule is his main priority. As far back as 2005 he was testifying before Congress about the need for the Architect to come up with a “realistic” timeline for finishing the now almost $600 million construction project.
A September 2008 completion “is not going to be easy,” Ungar said. “It’s doable, but a lot of things have to come together and we’ve got to stop having these surprises on the project.”
One of the areas that has been particularly detrimental when it comes to delays is the “critical path” of fire and life safety systems. Former Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman once told Congress after announcing yet another delay in the project that “the CVC is virtually the nation’s beta-test site for the very comprehensive security and fire- and life-safety systems that are being installed.”
Ungar said contractors “go along for a month or two and there’s no slippage in the critical path and some people start to feel good. And then boom, there’s a two- or three-month slip because of a surprise. We’ve got to be able to stop that.”
Since taking over as acting Architect, Stephen Ayers has instituted an action plan for the CVC that he told Congressional overseers would “intensify the communication and coordination within the project team,” improve contractor performance, and “identify acceptable ways to reduce the duration of the fire- and life-safety pre-testing and final acceptance testing process without compromising safety or increasing risk.”
Ungar praised the action plan last week, noting: “I think Stephen quickly recognized that he needs to recognize in the schedule risks and uncertainties so he’s built in some time for that, and that’s not been done to this extent before.”
But, Ungar added, the action plan has only “kept things from getting worse. … It hasn’t stopped the bleeding.”