Cannon renovation expected to go $137 million over budget

Inspector general report says some delays attributed to pandemic

Construction continues in the Cannon Building courtyard in March 2020. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Construction continues in the Cannon Building courtyard in March 2020. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 9, 2020 at 10:00am

The price tag for the Cannon House Office Building renovation project continues to rise as one leg of the construction effort lags years behind schedule, an Architect of the Capitol inspector general report shows.

The project began in 2014 and was originally expected to cost $752.7 million, stretched over 10 years and five phases (numbered 0-4). That original cost estimate has jumped to $890.1 million, a $137.4 million or 18 percent increase.

The added infusion of taxpayer money marks at least a $24.1 million increase since September 2019 when the House Administration Committee examined the massive renovation at a hearing. In his testimony before that panel, Terrell Dorn, managing director of infrastructure operations at the Government Accountability Office, cited an AOC report from June 2019 projecting the total cost to range between approximately $828 million and $866 million.

Dorn, who worked in a similar monitoring capacity on the Capitol Visitor Center project, said in a phone interview that it was not unusual for renovation projects to deviate 20 percent from the original budget. The CVC was initially projected to cost approximately $150 million in 1998. When the space opened in 2008, the final invoice reached $621 million.

Cannon, first used in 1908, is the oldest congressional office building with the exception of the Capitol. It is riddled with substantial environmental, health, safety and operational issues. Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and asbestos, which can cause adverse health effects, have both been found in Cannon during the construction process.

Phase 1 began in January 2017 and was projected to be finished by November 2018. The AOC inspector general report, which covers the time frame of April 1-Sept. 30, indicates that it is only now nearing completion: “The [Cannon House Office Building Renewal] Project team continues the process of closing out the last punch list and warranty items associated with Phase 1 (the west wing).”

But AOC spokeswoman Laura Condeluci said in an email that the punch list work is complete and the renovated section is “being used by the occupants (Members/staff).”

“Phase 1 was the most difficult phase of the project. The building was occupied until this phase started, which meant there were unforeseen conditions discovered once demolition work began in the spaces. A lot of lessons were learned and are being incorporated into future phases,” she said.

“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Phase 2 occupants are being moved in now. Phase 3 starts in January 2021. Phase 4 is scheduled to begin January 2023 for completion by the end of 2024,” she added.

Neither Condeluci nor those who oversee the project in Congress would say who approved the increase in funding. Condeluci did not answer repeated questions on whether or not Phase 1 was complete.

The House Appropriations Committee, in a report on the the fiscal 2021 legislative branch spending bill, expressed concern about the cost of the project, citing an estimate that was even higher than the one noted in the inspector general’s report.

“The Committee is concerned that the cost estimate for the project has increased by 19 percent to a total of $896,000,000. That estimate has been recently validated by the General Accountability Office, the AOC Inspector General and an expert outside contractor, who have all concluded that the estimate is within a 90 percent confidence interval,” the report stated.

AOC Inspector General Christopher P. Failla noted in his report that the COVID-19 pandemic caused substantial delays in the early months of the pandemic due to workers testing positive.

“Between January 1, 2020, and June 30, 2020, 26 project contractors and one AOC employee tested positive for COVID-19, with an additional three project contractors categorized as presumed positive and two as pending,” Failla wrote. “As of July 31, 2020, 1,654 worker-days were lost due to COVID-19. (This was up from 1,500 as of June 30, 2020.)”

As of Nov. 18, 57 AOC employees and 37 contractors working on construction in the Cannon Building have tested positive or been presumed positive for COVID-19. This is a cumulative total.

Peter Whippy, a spokesman for House Administration Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., did not comment.

Ashley Phelps, a spokeswoman for House Administration ranking member Rodney Davis, R-Ill., did not comment.

Michael Zetts, a spokesman for House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, did not comment.

Craig Wheeler, a spokesman for House Legislative Branch Appropriations ranking member Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., did not comment.

David Lerman contributed to this report.