Campus Notebook: Tourist Overload

Posted May 8, 2009 at 6:24pm

Congressional officials say the Capitol Visitor Center needs five more tour guides to deal with the deluge of visitors to the Capitol since the CVC opened in December.

[IMGCAP(1)]Acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers is asking Congress to pay for the guides — plus 15 visitor assistants — in fiscal 2010, citing packed tours and confused visitors. During peak season, tours will each have 50 people, he told Members last week.

Night events at the CVC are also more numerous than officials expected, Ayers said, drawing hundreds of visitors to the building after normal work hours.

And they all get lost. Ayers pointed to a recent night where “I found myself doing the way-finding for them.—

Hiring the tour guides and visitor assistants would cost almost $1 million.

CVC officials are also asking for almost $450,000 for five higher-level employees to help with the gift shops, special events and other offices.

Drawn-Out Justice. Lawyers made their final oral arguments Friday on whether 270 black Capitol Police officers should be able to sue the agency for discrimination.

Almost two years ago, a federal judge dismissed their complaints, ruling that the officers hadn’t exhausted in-house remedies. But the office that handles that in-house process — the Office of Compliance — filed a motion in February rejecting that claim.

On Friday, lawyers for both sides answered questions from a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The court is expected to issue a ruling in the next few months.

Capitol Police officers first filed their class-action lawsuit seven years ago, claiming they were denied promotions and treated unfairly because of a hostile work environment.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan did allow eight of the defendants to continue their cases. One of them is Sharon Blackmon-Malloy, who has led the charge against the agency’s alleged discrimination.

But attorney Joseph Gebhardt, who represents the officers, said those cases have stalled, stuck for years in pretrial motions.

In the meantime, 10 of the original 300 or so officers have died, he said.

Big Brother, Underground. The Architect of the Capitol wants to be able to track workers in the Capitol’s utility tunnels and plans to spend $500,000 to $1 million to install a wireless system to do so.

AOC officials recently put out a notice requesting information from companies that provide such systems, which would work like a GPS tool to pinpoint the location of anyone in the Capitol’s underground tunnels.

“If there happened to be an emergency, and they couldn’t get out to one of the egress points and if they were hurt, we would be able to locate them with this system,— AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki said.

The tunnels provide heating and cooling to Congressional buildings, winding underneath the Capitol for more than two miles. Workers already have walkie-talkies to communicate with those above ground.

Malecki said the agency promised to get a tracking system in the tunnels almost two years ago, when 10 workers blew the whistle on the dangerous conditions in the aging tunnels. They said the tunnels had not only exposed asbestos and crumbling walls, but also a patchy communications system.

The AOC eventually came to an agreement with the Office of Compliance for hundreds of millions of dollars in fixes to the tunnels. They are set to complete them by 2012.

But Malecki said the tracking system is “above and beyond— anything outlined in the agreement.

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