AOC Selection Process Takes Step Backward

Posted October 23, 2007 at 6:41pm

The lengthy process for picking the next Architect of the Capitol has hit a snag, as one of three candidates recommended to President Bush by a commission of Congressional leaders has withdrawn his name from consideration.

Kemel Dawkins, vice president for campus services at Duke University, has taken his name off the short list of nominees, forcing the bicameral, bipartisan commission of Members in charge of the recommendations to regroup and find an additional candidate to fill out the mandatory three-name ballot.

“The commission is evaluating the best way to proceed,” said Howard Gantman, a spokesman for the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which is charged with approving whomever Bush eventually picks.

Gantman did not specify when Dawkins withdrew his candidacy or how it could affect the timeline for picking the new Architect. The panel sent its original recommendations to the White House shortly before breaking for recess in August, and Bush’s pick had been expected by the end of the year.

Acting Architect Stephen Ayers is expected to remain at the helm until a new person is picked.

A statute passed in 1989 established a 10-year term for the Architect and also laid out the current search-and-nomination procedure. Under those guidelines, three candidates must be sent to the president for selection, with one designated as the top pick.

But officials in both branches of government privy to the selection process have remained tight-lipped on who the two others on the list of candidates might be, who might be added to the list or who is considered the preferred candidate.

Dawkins’ name only emerged after the Philadelphia Inquirer profiled his wife, Susan Taylor, on Sunday. Taylor, a high-profile Philadelphia dermatologist, noted that her husband was offered the position of Architect but declined. (Gantman denied that Dawkins was ever offered the job, however.)

Dawkins did not return a call to his Duke office by press time Tuesday. But his candidacy does offer a glimpse into what Members might be seeking in a new Architect — and that could break from tradition, as Dawkins’ background is filled with strong facilities management expertise.

According to a biography posted on the Duke Web site, Dawkins has served in his position since August 2003, overseeing auxiliary services, facilities management, police and capital assets at the university.

Prior to his tenure at Duke, Dawkins served as associate vice president for facilities and directed major construction and renovation projects at Yale University, according to his biography. He also has overseen facilities management at Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Facilities management expertise is something Members have said they are looking for in the new AOC. Former Architect Alan Hantman, whose tenure ended in February, was heavily criticized by Members for delays and cost overruns at the Capitol Visitor Center and an array of health and safety problems in the Capitol’s utility tunnel system.

“A major criterion in selecting candidates must be extensive managerial experience and the ability to come in and turn the organization around,” Gantman said earlier this year.

Some Members even tried to institute a more facilities management-focused approach to running the AOC before Hantman left office.

Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) offered an amendment to last year’s legislative branch appropriations bill that would have turned control of the AOC over to the Government Accountability Office until Hantman’s term expired.

The then-House Appropriations ranking member said a “radical solution” was needed to correct problems at the AOC. Although the amendment was included in the House version of the bill, it did not make it into the continuing resolution that eventually went into effect.

But some Members and a number of private groups have argued that only a licensed architect can be trusted to preserve and maintain the historic Capitol complex.

The American Institute of Architects has petitioned Bush to pick an architect for the role. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Phil English (R-Pa.) wrote to the president earlier this year, arguing that only a licensed architect can oversee the nation’s “cherished and vital structures.”

“Some have argued that the next Architect of the Capitol must possess significant experience managing large facilities,” the duo wrote. “We agree that extensive management experience is a vital and necessary qualification for the job. However, given the position’s unique role as steward and guardian of the Capitol, and because of the major design and renovation challenges that the Architect of the Capitol will face over the next decade, we believe that the training and experience of a professional architect is just as necessary.”