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After Years of Delays, a Nominee for Architect of Capitol Post

March 10, 2010

By C.J. Hughes

Stephen Ayers, AIA
Stephen Ayers, AIA

The man who has helmed the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) agency on a temporary basis since 2007 is a step closer to becoming its permanent leader.

On February 24, President Obama officially nominated Stephen Ayers, AIA, for the position. The AOC is responsible for the upkeep of the U.S. Capitol complex, including the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the U.S. Botanic Garden.

Ayers’s nomination now heads to the full Senate for confirmation, although no date has been set, according to Jean Bordewich, the staff director of the Senate’s Committee on Rules and Administration, which will handle confirmation hearings.

Ayers has served as the AOC’s acting chief since February 2007, when his predecessor Alan Hantman stepped down after a 10-year term. At that time, Congress sent the Bush administration three nominees for the job, including Ayers, plus Donald Orndorff, an architect with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Kemel Dawkins, a non-architect employed by Duke University. But no decision was made.

Similarly, the White House let nearly 13 months go by, since Inauguration Day 2009, without picking Ayers or Orndorff. (Dawkins withdrew his name in the winter of 2008, according to legislative sources.)

U.S. Capitol complex
Photo courtesy Wikipedia
The AOC is responsible for the upkeep of the U.S. Capitol complex, including the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the U.S. Botanic Garden.
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It’s unclear why President Bush waited to fill the post. The delays under President Obama likely were because he initially was focused on higher-level appointments, sources say.

With 2,500 employees and a budget of $540 million, the AOC, which has existed since 1867, oversees 16.5 million square feet across 28 buildings, plus 450 acres of grounds.

It also hires designers for major expansion projects, like the Capitol’s recently completed 555,000-square-foot Visitor Center, designed by Baltimore-based RTKL in collaboration with Hantman.

Ayers, 47, a former Air Force captain who helped the military rebuild Voice of America radio stations in Greece, Albania, and Germany early in his career, said he was honored to be nominated. “It’s been a privilege to be a part of the AOC team,” he said in an e-mail message, “and I look forward to the work that lies ahead.”

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) did not initially recommend Ayers for the job, but it is nonetheless pleased that a trained architect has been tapped. “We are very excited about this,” says Christine McEntee, the AIA’s executive vice president. “We wish it had happened sooner.”

And in the future, the process may get more streamlined. A bill sponsored by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) that passed the House of Representatives by voice vote on February 3 would remove the White House from the selection process and put the burden solely on Congress. That bill is currently under consideration in the Senate, says Jonathan Beeton, the communications director for Rep. Wasserman Schultz.

“It would give Congress the power to hire its own architect, which it doesn’t have right now,” Beeton says.

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