Power Plant Still Lacks Data Needed to Make Staff Cuts

Posted February 4, 2008 at 6:52pm

For more than a decade, Members of Congress and outside consultants have expressed concerns about potential overstaffing at the Capitol Power Plant.

But before any decisions about lowering staff levels can be made, Architect of the Capitol officials need to take a detailed look at the internal management of the facility, according to a Jan. 31 report issued by the Government Accountability Office.

Plant officials lack detailed, accurate data as to how many people actually are needed to operate the plant, according to the report. And even after the AOC, which oversees the power plant, takes stock of its equipment and operations, it still needs to develop procedures and guidelines should it decide to reduce staff, according to Terrell Dorn, who oversaw the report as the GAO’s director of physical infrastructure issues.

“You make a management decision,” Dorn said. “What’s the most effective way to do this?”

The plant provides steam and chilled water to a number of buildings on or near the Congressional campus, including the Capitol, House and Senate office buildings, Library of Congress buildings and Union Station.

Past estimates by the GAO and others have suggested that staff levels at the plant could be reduced by about one-third.

A November 2004 study by one consultant found that staff could be reduced from 88 to 46, according to the report. In 2006, the consultant updated those figures, finding that staff could be reduced to 57 full-time employees by 2011.

But since that time, the “AOC has taken limited action to develop a new staffing structure and staffing reduction plan,” according to the GAO report.

“AOC officials stated that they are in the preliminary stages of developing a staffing reduction plan that AOC officials also shared with us,” the report says. “The draft staffing reduction plan showed desired staffing levels at various facilities, but it did not demonstrate how these levels were determined. Furthermore, beyond a statement by officials that reductions would be achieved through attrition, there was no associated action plan or timetable for implementing the staff reductions.”

AOC officials agree with the recommendations in the GAO report, according to agency comments listed at the back of the document.

The agency also has hired a consultant to develop an equipment component inventory that will help create a detailed task list at the plant, according to AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki. In the meantime, the AOC will strive to make “cost savings and efficiency improvements” at the plant, Malecki added.

The report noted that AOC officials have expressed concern about reducing staff before the completion of the $100 million West Refrigeration Plant Expansion project. The first phase of that project was finished in September; the second phase is slated for completion this year and should be implemented by 2009.

The GAO recommended, however, that power plant officials not wait to make changes, arguing that if reductions are well-planned, problems could be minimized.

In a statement, members of the House Administration Committee said the AOC should move on the recommendations in the report.

“After reviewing the GAO report, we would encourage the AOC to implement the proposed recommendations, especially where they entail enhancing the efficiency of the workforce,” the statement said.