CVC Watch

Posted May 23, 2008 at 5:21pm

As the Capitol Visitor Center gets closer to completion, officials are starting to sweat over the small stuff: minor safety changes, leaky roofs and design details.

[IMGCAP(1)]Officials have a little more than 6,000 items left on their “punch list,” but there is some disagreement over which safety improvements are needed and which are over the top.

At the CVC’s monthly oversight hearing last week, a Government Accountability Office official said CVC officials “need to separate a punch list from a wish list.”

The Office of Compliance — tasked with ensuring Congress is up to safety code — has asked for some changes that aren’t required, said Terrell Dorn, GAO director of physical infrastructure issues.

“They can be a drain on the project budget and a distraction from the task at hand,” he told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.

But CVC and OOC officials downplayed the issue, saying that any disagreements over the code are discussed, and nothing is being significantly delayed.

In an interview after the hearing, OOC General Counsel Pete Eveleth said the office takes its recommendations not only from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration but also from the “consensus code” — or industry-accepted practices.

There’s always ambiguity, he said, and OOC and CVC officials disagree on what is and isn’t required. But he said it was a “handful” of items, and everyone meets once a week to hash out any issues.

At the hearing, CVC Project Executive Bernard Ungar said those disagreements so far haven’t delayed the CVC schedule.

He also gave examples of the type of disputes. In one case, OOC officials wanted the ends of some stair handrails to turn toward the wall so people aren’t snagged and children don’t fall onto a sharp edge.

Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) expressed her concern about reaching for such safety perfection when some changes could be made after the CVC’s opening.

“We do want to make sure that we open a safe place,” she said. “We also want to make sure we don’t nitpick.”

But there’s certainly plenty to figure out before the CVC is ready for the public. CVC officials still haven’t decided how visitors will get to the entrance; buses can’t stop right in front because of security concerns.

And while buses can drop off passengers at the Capitol’s West Front, that poses a problem for disabled visitors who might have trouble climbing the hill to the other side. Right now, six golf carts designed for disabled passengers make the trip, said Terrie Rouse, the chief executive officer for CVC visitor services.

Both Wasserman Schultz and ranking member Tom Latham (R-Iowa) said that golf carts did not seem like a suitable solution. CVC and Capitol Police officials are expected to meet soon to discuss the issue.

Thursday’s hearing also highlighted another issue: leaks in the tunnel between the CVC and the Library of Congress.

The tunnel would allow visitors to walk straight into the Jefferson Building. But it has several leaks, and if they aren’t fixed, the tunnel can’t open.

So far, about 90 percent of the leaks have been fixed, CVC officials said. Stephen Ayers, acting Architect of the Capitol, told Members that he was confident the cost of fixing the remaining leaks would stay within the $621 million budget set for the CVC.