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With the AOC Slot Still Open, AIA Urges Action

February 22, 2008

By Barbara J. Saffir

After a year has passed without a permanent replacement being named for the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) position, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is stepping up its lobbying efforts to have the slot filled.

Former AOC Alan M. Hantman retired in February 2007 after serving for 10 years. As required by law, Congress recommended three candidates to President Bush last summer. One, a controversial non-architect, has reportedly dropped out. Last week, Christine McEntee, the AIA’s chief executive officer, wrote to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi urging that she “take the next step by ensuring the prompt nomination and confirmation of a qualified candidate for this vital and prestigious position.”

Andrew L. Goldberg, senior director of federal relations at the AIA’s national component, explains “we believe that one of those two candidates should be nominated and confirmed so long as it’s a licensed professional architect with good facility management experience—that’s what’s necessary.”

Sources close to the process say that Stephen T. Ayers, the acting AOC, and Donald H. Orndoff, director of the Office of Construction & Facilities Management at the Department of Veterans Affairs, are the two contenders Bush is considering. But the president is not bound by law to choose either one. He could select someone else, or Congress could submit a new third candidate.

The candidate who dropped out, sources tell RECORD, is Kemel Dawkins, Duke University’s vice president for campus services. Reached last week, he would neither confirm nor deny this, saying only “I’m not in a position to comment.”

The AOC oversees nearly 2,200 employees and a $414 million budget for fiscal year 2008. It includes managing activities ranging from food services and gift shops, to construction and maintenance of the Capitol, congressional offices, the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, the Capitol Visitor Center—which is expected to open in November—and other facilities covering roughly 370 acres.

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Both remaining candidates are experienced managers and registered architects. Ayers, of Edgewater, Maryland, is a former Air Force lieutenant. He holds a bachelor of science degree in architecture from the University of Maryland and a masters of science degree in systems management from the University of Southern California. Although Ayers declines to discuss the appointment, he does note: “It’s a great honor for me to serve in the capacity I’m currently serving in as acting architect.”

Orndoff lives in Arlington, Virginia, and holds a bachelor of architecture degree from Virginia Tech and a master of engineering science degree in construction engineering from the University California at Berkeley. He worked for 29 years as a Naval officer, overseeing construction and facility management at navy bases worldwide. “I’m kind of the best of both worlds,” Orndoff says, referring to his “architectural sensitivities” and his management background.

Both candidates were nominated by the Senate Committee on Rules & Administration and the Architect of the Capitol Commission, which includes Pelosi and other Congressional leaders. That committee, charged with filling the vacancy, consulted with the AIA and hired the headhunter Heidrick & Struggles International before sending its three recommendations to the White House in August.

Hantman, the former AOC, says it took two years after he first applied for the job until he was appointed by President Clinton. While presidential appointments account for roughly 500 jobs in the executive branch, the AOC position is just one of four such appointments in the legislative branch, including the Librarian of Congress, the Public Printer, and the Comptroller General.

Paul C. Light, a professor at New York University and a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, says that a one-year delay in presidential appointments is not unusual and that the wait could even extend into next year and a new presidency. “This was the slowest administration in filling jobs since I started tracking the process looking back to the Kennedy administration,” he observes. “This administration right now is locked in a war with Congress over appointees.”

For its part, the AIA hopes that the process of filling the AOC slot will escape this deadlock. As McEntee wrote in her letter to Pelosi, further delays could hurt a number of important AOC projects: “Large-scale renovation projects in every jurisdiction on Capitol Hill, efforts to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and facilities, and plans to modernize and better secure the complex are just a few of the challenges that the Architect of the Capitol’s office will face, as well as preparations for the swearing-in of the next President of the United States in January 2009. The success of these projects—and, by extension, the success of the legislative and judicial branches in performing their duties—depends upon having an Architect of the Capitol nominated and confirmed as soon as possible.”

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