CVC Watch: A Year in Review

Posted December 17, 2007 at 6:55pm

If the long-awaited Capitol Visitor Center opens next year as planned, observers may look back at 2007 as the year things turned a corner.

After several delays and cost overruns, CVC efforts started out negatively in 2007, with officials twice pushing back the facility’s opening date. But by the end of the year, more than 98 percent of construction was finished, and the Architect of the Capitol and Government Accountability Office for the first time agreed on a cost projection and opening date.

[IMGCAP(1)]Part of that progress comes from increased Congressional oversight of the facility, according to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.

“We made real progress in bringing accountability and oversight,” said Wasserman Schultz, whose committee hosts monthly CVC oversight hearings. “We have a substantial completion date that has been met, we placed an inspector general in the AOC to provide greater accountability, and for the first time the GAO and AOC are in agreement.”

With construction nearly finished, the House Administration Committee likely will join Wasserman Schultz’s panel in oversight duties next year. House Administration members said in a statement that they look forward to “playing a vital role” next year.

Here, CVC Watch takes a look back at 2007 — and what issues might shape the early months of 2008.

January

New subcommittee Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz announces that she will begin holding monthly oversight hearings.

February

After “evaluating past contractor performance, schedules and the nature of issues that remain,” acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers announces that the CVC will not open in 2007, as previously predicted. Instead, Ayers predicts a summer 2008 opening.

March

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, begins a push to change the name of the CVC’s Great Hall to “Emancipation Hall.” It’s a way to honor the slaves who built the Capitol while also preventing confusion with the Library of Congress’ Great Hall, Wamp says.

April

CVC officials say they don’t expect to get a certificate of occupancy for the facility until June 2008, pushing the CVC opening date back until September 2008.

Meanwhile, Congressional leaders develop a governance plan for the facility that provides CVC executives and managers relative independence but gives the AOC oversight responsibility.

May

After just a few months on the job, Doug Jacobs steps down as CVC project executive, citing health reasons. Later in the month, Bernie Ungar — who ran the GAO’s oversight of the CVC — is brought in. Almost immediately, Ungar calls the projected September 2008 opening “unlikely.”

June

With construction beginning to wrap up, officials focus on operation of the CVC, hiring Terrie Rouse as the facility’s chief executive officer for visitor services. Restaurant Associates officially is announced as the food vendor for the CVC cafeteria. (A few months later, officials announce RA will take over operations of all House food services.)

The report that accompanies the House version of the legislative branch appropriations bill establishes a statutory inspector general who will monitor the AOC.

July

GAO officials predict a November 2008 CVC opening, and Ungar agrees that is “more likely” than the September opening still predicted by the AOC. Delays in early fire and life-safety tests are blamed.

August

Crews continue construction efforts during the recess. By the time Members return, about 97 percent of CVC construction is complete.

September

For the first time, the AOC and GAO agree on an opening date and final price tag: November 2008, at a cost of $621 million.

October

With construction wrapping up, Members and CVC officials turn even further to operations. The future of staff-led tours is debated at a House Administration hearing. AOC officials argue that incorporating staff tours into official tours given by the Capitol Guide Service will be a safer, more informative experience for visitors. But many Members disagree, arguing the tours connect them with their constituents.

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) introduces a bill to permanently display the Pledge of Allegiance and motto “In God We Trust” at the CVC.

November

The CVC meets its Nov. 15 substantial completion deadline. More than 98 percent of construction is complete.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) introduces legislation to maintain staff-led tours. At the monthly oversight hearing, Wasserman Schultz asks Rouse to prepare operating proposals that would maintain staff-led tours. Those will be presented at the next oversight hearing, which is expected in early 2008.

The House passes a measure officially changing the name of the Great Hall to Emancipation Hall.

Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse publicly introduces his initial security proposals for the CVC, which outline how many new officers would be needed, depending on operating hours and other factors.

December

Fire and life-safety tests continue on schedule, with some tests wrapping up early, officials say.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) officially introduces companion legislation for Musgrave’s bill.