Washington Secrets

Danger zone: Capitol Dome rehab delay threatens safety

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets

The safety of Capitol visitors, lawmakers and congressional staffers has been put in danger by massive spending cuts in a nearly $100 million program to fix the leaky Capitol Dome, the nation’s leading architectural group warned Tuesday.


In slashing dome repairs from the requested $97 million to just $28.9 million, the House last week also threatens to endanger the country’s leading symbols of democracy, said the American Institute of Architects and several related groups. “Delaying or canceling needed improvements will make the Capitol complex less safe, harm the functioning of Congress and endanger our country’s cultural heritage,” they wrote in a letter to House and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders.

House and Senate appropriators are trying to cut costs, and the Architect of the Capitol’s office appears to be taking the brunt of the hits. Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers had sought money to repair tears and leaks in the dome, but Congress is putting that on hold to show it can cut spending.

The architects highlighted safety as a key concern for fixing the dome soon. “If not corrected, these problems threaten the safety and security not only of members of Congress and their staffs, but of the millions of people who visit the Capitol annually,” they said in a letter provided to Secrets.

Read their letter below:

Dear Leader Reid, Leader McConnell, Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi:

We are writing to express our continued support for the renovations and enhancements needed to restore and improve the Capitol dome in FY2013 and beyond.

We are concerned that a dramatic decrease in the allocation of the Architect of the Capitol’s budget will severely inhibit much needed maintenance, causing further deterioration of the Capitol dome and its supporting structures. This would unfortunately lead to higher costs for taxpayers in future years as deferred repairs come due. In addition, these cuts will risk the heritage, safety and security of the U.S. Capitol, the world’s leading symbol of democratic ideals.

There is little disagreement that the federal government, including Congress, must live within its means and be judicious in its consideration of short and long term expenditures. However, the Architect’s FY2013 budget is focused primarily on needed maintenance and repair projects that are designed to keep the buildings of the Capitol complex – some of them nearly two centuries old – in proper working order.

Numerous projects that are at risk in this budget are required to protect and preserve historic features of the Capitol, including rehabilitation of the Capitol dome and preservation of the Capitol buildings. Other projects are needed to address mechanical, plumbing, and electrical defects, as well as egress and life safety issues. If not corrected these problems threaten the safety and security not only of members of Congress and their staffs, but of the millions of people who visit the Capitol annually.

These projects are not discretionary, nor are they luxuries; their upkeep and maintenance is imperative to the effective operations of the Capitol. In fact, delays will undoubtedly lead to higher costs for taxpayers as defects worsen and repair costs rise due to inflation. As any homeowner knows, delaying needed repairs only costs more in the long run.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, the cuts being discussed will have a profoundly negative impact on some of the most cherished buildings in our nation. The U.S. Capitol is not merely Congress’ work space; it is also an attraction for millions of visitors from around the world, a shining example of American architecture – and home to priceless works of art - and a potential target for those who wish to do us harm. Delaying or cancelling needed improvements will make the Capitol complex less safe, harm the functioning of Congress and endanger our country’s cultural heritage.

Therefore, we respectfully urge Congress to ensure adequate funding to allow the Architect of the Capitol to continue needed repairs on the Capitol dome.

Sincerely,

American Institute of Architects
American Society of Civil Engineers
ASHRAE
Glass Association of North America
Illuminating Engineering Society of North America Ingersoll Rand
Institute for Market Transformation National Institute of Building Sciences AEC Science & Technology
Ecobuild America.
The Stella Group, Ltd.
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