Architect Has Long August To-Do List

Posted July 31, 2007 at 6:46pm

With just three days to go before Congress breaks for its annual August recess — if all things go as scheduled, anyway — Congressional staffers are looking forward to a few weeks of downtime.

But for the people on Capitol Hill charged with keeping the campus in tiptop shape, August is the month to do the big jobs that can be done only when Members are not around, or, in some cases, to just make sure the trains keep running on time.

Perhaps the biggest project scheduled to take place during the next month is the annual inspection and resealing of the Capitol Dome, a task expected to kick off today.

Overseen by the Architect of the Capitol, the effort will involve inspecting the joints in the exterior shell and interior surfaces of the Dome, from the base of the Statue of Freedom to the cornice below the Beltcourse level.

According to AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki, the Dome’s joints will be cleaned and resealed, ensuring that the umbrella over the Rotunda remains watertight. The process will take four weeks.

Meanwhile, AOC personnel will be working on the outside shell, supported by safety lines, so people on the ground will probably spot workers atop the Capitol.

It isn’t the first time the AOC has undertaken routine maintenance on the Dome.

The Architect finished the first phase of its Dome rehabilitation program in 2000 and a year later performed an interim repainting. The AOC also inspected and resealed the Dome’s joints in 2003, 2005 and 2006.

Meanwhile, the AOC was scheduled Tuesday to wrap up its cleaning of the Statue of Freedom, a process that lasted throughout most of July.

The AOC also will undertake non-Dome projects in August — the bulk of its regular work will continue as if Congress was still in session.

Efforts to wrap up the ongoing Capitol Visitor Center project for its now-likely November 2008 opening are perhaps paramount. (See story, p. 1.) But AOC workers will undertake a number of general projects throughout the Capitol complex, such as painting, cleaning, conservation and sidewalk replacement.

“These are just one to two day projects much like we do the rest of the year,” Malecki said.

While workers at other Capitol Hill agencies might not be swinging from ropes on the Dome during August, many will keep busy with other projects and events.

For House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard and his staff, August is not all that different from when Congress is in session, according to spokesman Jeff Ventura.

“The CAO is busy during recess,” he said. “It’s not like we go away. … We’re a 24/7, 365-days-a-year operation.”

The CAO will spend the upcoming weeks moving ahead on projects that began earlier this year. Perhaps most notable will be efforts to implement the Green the Capitol Initiative, which was formally presented to the public on June 21.

“We’re now in the process of trying to figure out how we actually move forward with the proposed action items in the plan,” Ventura said. “There’s a lot of thinking going on right now.”

There also are plans in the works to move forward on two other studies commissioned by the CAO earlier this session.

One, conducted by the firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide, is an industry comparison of House employee benefits. The study is expected to be completed in August, with officials getting to work on implementation soon after, Ventura said.

The other study looks at how to improve the waiting list for admission to the House day care center.

“We’re going to get that back and take a hard look at what we can do to act on their suggestions,” Ventura said.

Over at the Government Printing Office, employees will not be able to take the entire month as free time — the agency still must print the Federal Register and keep up on its passport production, among other responsibilities.

But because it does not have to print the Congressional Record, the GPO will get a chance to focus on other things during August, according to spokesman Gary Somerset.

“We use this time for comprehensive training for our employees,” Somerset said, adding that the training covers a wide range of topics, from policy to equipment use.

The recess will serve as a time to say goodbye to an old friend at the Library of Congress.

The agency is scheduled to end the decade-long run of its “American Treasures of the Library of Congress” exhibit on Aug. 18 so workers can begin construction on the LOC’s upcoming visitor center.

To mark its closing, the Library will keep the exhibit open until 8 p.m. on Aug. 7, enabling staffers to visit it one last time, according to LOC spokesman Matt Raymond.