Capitol Visitor Center Sparks Renewed Debate
WASHINGTON – When the Capitol Visitor Center (search) is complete, the underground facility will increase the size of the Capitol building by 70 percent.
But in the tradition of many massive government projects, it is uncertain when the center will be complete. So far, the security-minded underground building is two years behind schedule and roughly $185 million over budget, costing taxpayers $454 million in current allocations.
Unexpected and unavoidable obstacles have hampered progress. When crews startedCap digging, they found abandoned water wells and tunnels that weren't where they were supposed to be.
A report released this week from the Government Accountability Office (search) acknowledges that some delays and cost overruns were caused by unforeseen conditions, but GAO also points to a number of design changes and what it calls "project management issues."
"Sixty million dollars of this overrun was preventable and was because of incompetence," said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga.
Kingston is very angry over how the project has been managed and is ready to take it away from the Architect of the Capitol, Alan Hantman.
"I think we should look at privatization, outsourcing as much as possible, just finding a way to do it better. I don't think this is acceptable for the United States' taxpayers," Kingston said.
Hantman, who has been the Capitol architect for almost eight years, said members of Congress are in part responsible for cost overruns and delays.
"The most difficult thing that any architect or engineer who's working on a project that's moving ahead ... can hear is: 'While you're at it, why don't you change this? While you're at it, why don't you add that?'"
Members of Congress have requested $150 million in add-ons, according to Hantman, who, as a man with 535 bosses, cannot refuse to make the changes.
But that explanation doesn't wash with Kingston.
"Congress wasn't the one who brought in the painters to come in and paint the walls before the sheet rock was up. And that's squarely the fault of the architect," he said.
The Capitol Architect (search) does have his supporters who say this is not the first time congressional construction has gone awry.
"The dome started out as a $100,000 project in the 1850s and ended up a million dollar project," said Rep. John Mica. "In 1800, they only built half of the building because they ran behind schedule and over budget."
Despite the delays, Hantman said that the Capitol building will be cleared so President Bush can drive up to the West Front of the Capitol unimpeded on inauguration day, Jan. 20. The visitor center, however, is now projected to be completed in September 2006.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Brian Wilson.