The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) is responsible to Congress for the maintenance, operation, development, and preservation of the U.S. Capitol Complex, which includes the Capitol, Congressional Office buildings, Library of Congress, Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building, Capitol Police Headquarters, U.S. Botanic Garden, Robert A. Taft Memorial, and Capitol Power Plant. AOC duties also include the arrangement of inaugural ceremonies and other large productions held in the Capitol Complex buildings or elsewhere on the 260 acres of the Capitol grounds, which are made up of lawns, walkways, streets, drives, and planting areas.
The winning design for the original Capitol building, chosen in 1793 by President George Washington, in a national architectural competition, was the concept created by Dr. William Thornton, a Scottish-trained physician living in Tortola, British West Indies. Thornton then became the first Architect of the Capitol (AOC), designing and supervising its initial construction, under the direction of President Washington and the Commissioners of the Federal district. That version of the Capitol wasn’t completed, however, until 1826, after several stops and starts that included time off from construction during the War of 1812; re-grouping after a fire; and including the terms of three presidents and two more Architects of the Capitol. From 1829 to 1849 the Commissioner of Public Buildings was entrusted with care of the Capitol. Running water was introduced in 1832, gas lighting in the 1840s, a House of Representatives Chamber in 1857, and the Senate Chamber two years later. Then in 1861 most construction was suspended because of the Civil War, and during that period the Capitol was used briefly as a military barracks, hospital, and bakery. In 1862 work on the building resumed, and the growth of the Congress made expansion at that time a necessity, with the extension, and a new dome, completed by 1868.
In 1874 the first elevator was installed, and in 1876 the Office of the Architect of the Capitol was established. The Sundry Civil Appropriation Act of 1876 provided AOC with permanent authority to care for and maintain the U.S. Capitol, and although the Office has been in existence ever since, some of its functions have changed significantly as new buildings and grounds have become part of the Capitol Complex, and new technology has led to many modifications in structures and ways of operating. In the 1880s electric lighting began to replace gas lights, and fireproofing was completed in 1902. Among the changes from July 1949 to January 1951 were the House and Senate chambers being completely remodeled, including modernizing air conditioning and lighting, and solving acoustical problems. Between 1958 and 1962 new rooms were added to the Capitol, the dome was repaired, a subway terminal was constructed under the Senate steps, and the building was bird-proofed. In the 1960s the Rayburn House Office Building was constructed, and in 1973 electronic voting equipment was installed in the House Chamber. The Old Senate Chamber, National Statuary Hall, and Old Supreme Court Chamber were restored to their mid-19th century appearance for the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration. Provisions were made to allow the televising of House and Senate debates in 1979 and 1986 respectively. Eventually climate control, electronic surveillance systems, and new communications facilities were added.
Until 1989 the position of Architect of the Capitol was filled by presidential appointment for an indefinite term. Public Law 101-163, enacted in 1989, mandated that the President appoint the Architect for a 10-year term, with the advice and consent of the Senate, from a list of three candidates recommended by a Congressional Commission. Upon confirmation by the Senate, the Architect then becomes an official of the Legislative Branch, an officer and agent of Congress, eligible for reappointment after completion of his term.
Four years after that law passed, in 1993, restoration of the Capitol west front and terraces, and the in-filling of courtyards, were completed, and the newest major addition, and largest project in the Capitol’s history, the $548 million Capitol Visitor Center, opened in December 2008. It covers nearly 580,000 square feet, on three levels, and serves as a welcoming spot for visitors to the Capitol. It is approximately three-quarters the size of the Capitol itself. Among the amenities the site contains are an exhibition gallery that houses a variety of historical displays, including original documents from the National Archives and Library of Congress, and Orientation Theatres, including a House Theater and a Senate Theater, which provides live feeds to the House and Senate when they’re in session.
The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) has permanent authority for the care and mechanical and structural maintenance and future development of the U.S. Capitol building, congressional office buildings, the Library of Congress buildings, the U.S. Supreme Court building, the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building, the Capitol Power Plant, the Capitol Police Headquarters, and the Robert A. Taft Memorial, as well as the upkeep and improvement of the Capitol Grounds, and the arrangement of inaugural and other ceremonies held in the Capitol building or on the grounds.
The Senate Committee on rules and administration holds approval over how the Architect handles his responsibilities in connection with the Senate side of the Capitol, while his activities are subject to the approval and direction of the House Office Building Commission in connection with his duties regarding the House Office Buildings and Capitol Power Plant. On other matters concerning the House side of the Capitol, he is under the direction of the speaker, and is subject to the oversight of the Committee on House Administration regarding House administration areas. For his responsibilities regarding the care and maintenance and restoration of works of art in the Capitol, including murals, oil paintings, bronze and marble statues, and sculptures, he is under the direction of the Joint Committee on the Library.
The Architect is also the Acting Director of the United States Botanic Garden under the Joint Committee on the Library. In addition, his office erects the inaugural platform on the Capitol’s west front, sets up the necessary seating and fencing on the grounds, and coordinates other activities with the Joint Congressional Committee on the Inaugural Ceremonies regarding all of the necessary physical arrangements.
The Architect also serves as a member of the Capitol Police Board; Capitol Guide Board; District of Columbia Zoning Commission; Advisory Council on History Preservation; National Capital Memorial Commission; Art Advisory Committee to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority; and the National Institute for Conservation of Cultural Property; and is an ex-officio member of the United States Capitol Preservation Commission.
Projects under the direction of the Architect of the Capitol have included replacement of worn tile in Senate corridors; renovation of hearing rooms, and the improvement of electrical, fire-protection, plumbing, and transportation systems in the Capitol and Congressional office buildings; installation of perimeter security devices across the Capitol complex; development of a Capitol Complex Master Plan; expansion and modernization of the Capitol Power Plant; and modernization of the Supreme Court building and the construction of an underground annex to it.
New projects include repairs to the underground utility tunnel system, and conversion of 5,300 tons of Congressional trash to electricity.
Capitol's Rubbish Is Headed for Trash-Burning Power Plants (by John McArdle and Emily
From the Web Site of the Architect of the Capitol
Architects, carpenters, carpet installers, cleaning crews, construction people, designers, drivers, electricians, engineers, food vendors, IT developers, painters, plumbers, repairmen, roofers, telecommunication workers.
The following outline of spending for FY 2011, by way of AOC programs, is drawn from the AOC FY 2011 Performance and Accountability Report (pdf):
General Administrative $121,961,000
Capitol Power Plant $120,052,000
Senate Office Buildings $82,446,000
House Office Buildings $67,397,000
Capitol Building $60,099,000
Library Buildings and Grounds $44,111,000
Capitol Visitor Center $22,121,000
Capitol Police Buildings, Grounds, and Security $19,333,000
Botanic Garden $12,838,000
Supreme Court and Judiciary Buildings $11,936,000
Capitol Grounds $11,818,000
Net Cost of Operations $574,112,000
Safety Violations on the Hill
Eroding structures and safety violations have plagued Capitol Hill in recent years as the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) has struggled to receive enough funds from Congress to conduct necessary repairs. In 2010, the Office of Compliance issued a report that said the Capitol campus had more than 6,300 safety violations. Of this total, the AOC was responsible for addressing 1,785 violations, including obstructed doorways, blocked fire sprinklers, and electrical outlets with exposed wires.
The AOC’s top official, Stephen Ayers, responded to the report by insisting 82% of the violations had been addressed, while another 10% were in the process of being fixed. The areas constituting the remaining 18% had been closed, Ayers said. He admitted some of the most serious violations would require “substantial time and resources to resolve.”
By 2012, the AOC was still dealing with some of the violations. Ayers told Congress his office needed $668.2 million for its next budget, with $50 million going towards a backlog of “deferred maintenance” projects intended to preserve historical structures and ensure the safety of lawmakers, staff, and visitors.
Capitol Architect Under Fire (by Erika Lovley, Politico)
Why Capitol Hill Sucks As A Workplace, Too (News One)
More Than 70 Percent of Congressional Offices Violate OSHA Safety Standards (by Jordy Yager, The Hill)
Architect of the Capitol: Some Congressional Buildings Are in 'Poor Condition' (by Emma Dumain, Roll Call)
Architect of the Capitol Enters the “God” Controversy
Some Republican lawmakers no doubt have lost faith in the AOC when it comes to placing God where they believe he or she belongs. In 2007, the AOC reversed its policy that had prohibited the use of religious language on flag certificates — mementos that members of Congress give to individuals in commemoration of notable events and achievements. The prohibition had enraged religious conservatives who blasted the AOC, which said it was only enforcing an earlier rule stipulating “religious expressions are not permitted on flag certificates.”
Two years later, House Republicans again sent an order to the AOC, this time to engrave the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Motto, “In God We Trust,” inside the new Capitol Visitor Center. The center had opened in 2008 with the motto nowhere to be found; the “oversight” was corrected in autumn 2009.
Still not satisfied with regards to the motto, the House GOP adopted a resolution in 2011 that stated “In God We Trust” was the official motto of the United States, even though no official action had been taken to indicate otherwise.
Architect of the Capitol Flips on Using the Word ‘God’ on Flag Certificates (by Karissa Marcum, The Hill)
House Committee Approves Engraving 'In God We Trust' in Capitol Visitor Center (by Edwin Mora, CNS News)
Religious Acknowledgments in the Capitol Visitor Center (by David Barton, Wall Builders)
In God We Trust, With the House’s Help (by Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times)
Architect’s Say on the Environment
The AOC has become increasingly involved in environmental issues, some of which were driven by demonstrations in the nation’s capital. In March 2009, about 2,500 protesters marched outside the Capitol Power Plant in southeast Washington to draw attention to its polluting ways. The century-old plan was responsible for 30% of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by Congress, due to its use of coal to produce electricity. Once relied upon to light the Capitol Building, the plant now is only used to generate steam for heating and chilled water for cooling buildings within the Capitol Complex.
Deciding it was time to convert the plant from coal to natural gas, congressional Democrats asked the AOC to make the switch by the end of 2009. Two years later, the AOC took the lead in promoting sustainability efforts within the Capitol Complex. The goal was to consolidate operations and improve efficiencies so that Congress could reduce its energy consumption.
Also in 2011, the AOC also decided to hire a contractor to haul away 90% of the non-recyclable solid waste produced by Congress. The plan called for disposing the garbage into incinerators and producing fuel for generators that produce electricity.
Anti-Coal Protesters Block Gates to Capitol Power Plant (Environment News Service)
Pelosi and Reid: No more coal for Capitol Power Plant (by Joe Romm, Think Progress)
Capitol Sustainability Effort Moves To Architect's Office (by John McArdle, Greenwire)
New Plan to Convert Waste From U.S. Capitol into Electricity (NBC Washington)
Capitol's Rubbish Is Headed for Trash-Burning Power Plants (by John McArdle and Emily Yehle, Greenwire)
Contractors Were Exposed to Asbestos
Washington State Senator Patty Murray criticized then-Acting Architect Stephen T. Ayers for the way he handled the situation when it was learned that asbestos had been found in utility tunnels under the Capitol Complex. Two tunnel safety reports and some emails obtained by The Hill made it obvious that contractors worked without safety gear in the Capitol Power plant utility tunnels had been exposed to asbestos for almost a month
In fact, the regular crew that monitored the tunnels had, for years, been exposed to asbestos before the AOC finally gave them safety equipment. The AOC apparently knew about the asbestos since 2000 and the crew got the equipment in 2006.
Contractors were exposed to asbestos (by Kelly McCormack, The Hill)
Upon the retirement of Alan Hantman in February 2007, Stephen Ayers was named Acting Architect of the Capitol. Congress also recommended Ayers to President George W. Bush as one of their choices of candidates to serve a ten-year term, but Bush left office without making a decision. On February 24, 2010, President Barack Obama nominated Ayers to the position and on May 12, 2010, he was confirmed by the Senate.