Campus Notebook: Roger That

Posted March 19, 2010 at 5:41pm

The Capitol Police have almost completed the design of a new radio system that will replace the agency’s decades-old equipment.

[IMGCAP(1)]For years, police officials have asked Congress for funding to replace their outdated and unreliable system. They finally got most of the funds — about $70 million — in the Iraq and Afghanistan supplemental spending bill passed in July.

Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said the department has “essentially completed” the design of the system and will begin seeking a contractor to build it in April.

Meanwhile, the Architect of the Capitol has begun the design and construction of the system’s primary site in Manassas, Va., according to acting Architect Stephen Ayers. That site will be completed by the end of this year. The AOC is also in the middle of negotiating a lease for the “mirror site” near the Capitol and plans to have it done by March 2011.

Police officials then plan to have “acceptance testing” in the winter of 2012

and a fully working system by that spring. The new radios will replace ones that sometimes fail in basements throughout the Capitol complex and are incompatible with the systems of local and federal agencies.

Chief Phillip Morse has asked for almost $16 million in his fiscal 2011 budget request for the “final indoor portion of this highly complex project.” The system was specifically designed for Capitol Police officers, who spend most of their time behind marble walls and underground — a challenging environment for radios.

An Unexpected Twist. The Capitol Visitor Center, notorious for the ever-increasing price tag of its construction, may end up costing less than its predicted budget.

Acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers said last week that the project will cost at least $20 million less than the agency’s $621 million estimate. That was good news to Senate appropriators, who are hoping to find ways to offset about $150 million requested by the AOC for deferred maintenance projects in fiscal 2011.

The savings is also welcome to AOC officials, who spent years responding to criticism that the CVC was over budget and behind schedule. Originally slated to cost $265 million, the underground building grew in design and price until it finally opened on Dec. 2, 2008. At 580,000 square feet, it is the largest-ever expansion to the Capitol.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, said appropriators might direct the savings from the CVC to help pay for maintenance and construction projects around the Hill. But that will still be only be a fraction of the AOC’s request, which is a 25.5 percent increase over its current budget.

“I know you face a difficult challenge when putting together a budget,” Nelson told Ayers at a hearing last week. But “I’m going to do everything I can to hold the legislative branch flat this year.”

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