Capitol Architect Scrounges Budget for More Than Fencing

Fencing around the Capitol is nearly half the $2 million a week it used to cost, but the architect of the Capitol said other security issues need attention.

Architect of the Capitol Brett Blanton testifies Thursday, March 11, before the House Appropriations Committee. (Image via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Delivering an $865 million budget pitch to Congress on Thursday, the architect of the Capitol described some of his office’s other objectives, and how they dovetail with keeping the Hill safe.

The Office of the Architect of the Capitol wants the funds to invest in hiring and retaining employees, and to build upon on-the-job training through the creation of an Architect of the Capitol University. Another project that architect Brett Blanton described is the development of a system to reduce deferrals of building maintenance.

Blanton offered his testimony about the annual budget request to the House Appropriations Committee, in a hearing where members focused largely on security parameters of the Capitol after the January 6 insurrectionist attack by extremist supporters of former President Donald Trump.

At one point, Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler described a number of security flaws in several buildings of the Capitol, saying their existence has come as a surprise to staff and representatives who use them.

Lawmakers were previously unaware, for example, that the large parking garage doors leading to a House office building are always open.

Blanton said the issue was just one of the projects in which his office had deferred maintenance to a future date.

“That is a great example of where I talk about deferred maintenance, where it’s something that was a known issue, it was deferred maintenance but without having the appropriated dollars that year, we lumped it into a larger project so we could get the work done,” Blanton said.

How much longer the fencing around the Capitol will stay up is evaluated weekly against the threat to lawmakers and support staff. Blanton noted that it is not the Department of Defense but rather Capitol security that makes the decision on when to keep or remove the fencing.

This afternoon, he noted, fencing along Louisiana Avenue will come down, and the fencing Washington Avenue will be removed into the evening.

Hugh Halpern, director of the U.S. Government Publishing Office appeared before the House Appropriations Committee. (Image via Courthouse News)

“We are actually working with DOD now based off of their police and National Guard request of how much fence line we can remove with their force posture that would remain on campus, with the goal of shrinking it as much as possible and allowing as much access as possible,” Blanton said.

Where possible, he noted, some of the fencing might be brought closer to the building.

Blanton noted that, upon their installation after the Jan. 6 riots, two perimeters of nonscalable fencing around the Capitol building originally cost taxpayers $1.9 million a week. That number is down to $1.23 million a week today, and Blanton said it will continue to decrease as time goes on.

Hugh Halpern, director of the U.S. Government Publishing Office, also appeared before the committee to explain his office’s request for $125.5 million in funding.

The total is a nearly 8% increase from the previous year — what Halpern called a reflection of the $30 million in losses some departments have suffered since March of last year due to Covid-19. Revenue from passport production alone had plummeted by $92 million, he said.

Ed Case, a Hawaii Democrat, thought it was interesting costs at the office had increased during lockdowns for Covid-19.

Halpern laid the blame on how the agency handles vacation and medical leave, saying labor agreements with various workers unions allowed workers to essentially earn double time for performing during a global pandemic.

“So, that cost us more than $7 million over a period of just a couple months,” Halpern said.

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