Editorial: Visitor’s center classic case of mismanagement

A new Visitor Center at the U.S. Capitol — under construction and scheduled for completion in late 2005 — is already telling a more accurate story of Congress than planners had hoped.
The underground 580,000-square-foot facility, located on the east side of the Capitol, and intended to share the history of Congress, is symbolizing the real Congress with excessive tax-financed budget overruns.
When first planned in 1999, estimates for the center stood at about $265 million. Now, the price tag may exceed $465 million by the time it’s built, said an Associated Press report.
Feigning concern, the House Appropriations Committee recently passed language in a spending bill that encouraged the Capitol Architect to complete the work “without delay and in a fiscally responsible manner.”
(In the same bill, members cared so much about fiscal responsibility they approved an 8 percent spending increase for their own office expenses, including $164,000 to install showers in two House office buildings, AP reported.)
Originally, the plan was to build the Visitor Center with $100 million in tax money and then raise an additional $100 million from private funds and $65 million from the sale of commemorative coins. But the private partnership fizzled, with fund raising not even meeting half the targeted amount.
Under normal circumstances, the operation would be scaled back to stay within budget. But, this is Congress.
Planners apparently aren’t that concerned about a cost overrun of a few hundred million dollars when it comes to constructing an extravagant center that will contain the variety of top-dollar rare marble found in the Capitol building and only the finest bronze and tile.
In addition, the facility will include a Great Hall, theaters, an exhibition gallery, a cafeteria and gift shops to accommodate the anticipated 7,000 or so daily visitors.
Capitol Architect Alan Hantman blames the cost overruns on added security measures and necessary design modifications. But instead of reallocating resources, designers apparently piled on changes and billed them to taxpayers.
“It is reprehensible that taxpayers are being bled to cover these constantly rising costs,” said Citizens Against Government Waste President Tom Schatz, in a statement. “Obviously, if the voluntary fund was unable to raise a significant amount of money to finance this effort, there was little public support for it to begin with. The Capitol Visitor Center has become a classic example of how government projects end up well behind schedule and over cost.”
It’s time for someone in power to say “enough.” Construction crews are only in the earth-moving stage, so it may not be too late to step back and show proper respect and stewardship for tax dollars.
That would be a more fitting tribute than this living monument to waste and mismanagement.