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Before the Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, Committee on 
Appropriations, House of Representatives:       

United States Government Accountability Office:       


For Release on Delivery Expected at 9:00 a.m. EDT:       

Wednesday, August 1, 2007:       


Status of Utility Tunnel Projects:       

Statement of Terrell G. Dorn, 
Director Physical Infrastructure Issues:       


Madam Chair and Members of the Subcommittee:       

I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to discuss and update the 
work we did last fall related to safety issues in the walkable utility 
tunnels (referred to as tunnels) managed by the Architect of the 
Capitol (AOC).[Footnote 1] AOC, through the Capitol Power Plant, 
operates five walkable utility tunnels containing steam and chilled 
water pipes associated with serving the heating and cooling 
requirements of the U.S. Capitol and over 20 surrounding 
facilities.[Footnote 2] In our work last fall, we addressed conditions 
in the tunnels and AOC's plans for addressing them. The Office of 
Compliance (OOC), which is responsible for advancing safety, health, 
and workplace rights in the legislative branch, and the tunnel workers 
had raised concerns about health and safety issues in the tunnels. As a 
result of these concerns, in January 2006, OOC issued citations for and 
asked AOC to address a potential asbestos hazard and heat stress 
conditions in the tunnels. In addition, in February 2006, OOC filed a 
complaint against AOC concerning hazards in the tunnels, including 
falling concrete, an inadequate communication system for these confined 
spaces, and inadequate escape exits (egresses). According to OOC 
officials, these conditions had been brought to AOC's attention by OOC 
inspectors as early as 1999, but AOC had not made sufficient progress 
in addressing them, and conditions in the tunnels had deteriorated 
further. In June 2007, AOC reached a settlement agreement with OOC to 
resolve both the citations and the complaint. The settlement agreement 
calls for the problems in the tunnels to be resolved within 5 years of 
the settlement date.       

My statement today will focus on the projects and other steps AOC is 
taking to address the tunnel problems and the current schedule and 
estimated costs for the tunnel projects. Today's remarks are based on 
our prior work, AOC's quarterly reports on improvements to the utility 
tunnels, and discussions with AOC's tunnel project executive and 
project managers. We also reviewed the June 2007 settlement agreement 
between AOC and OOC related to the tunnels.       


AOC has established a dedicated management team to oversee the tunnel 
improvement work, and the projects AOC is implementing to address 
problems in the tunnels are in various stages of planning, design, and 
construction. In November 2006, we reported that AOC had started to 
address problems in the tunnels, but their condition remained 
substantially unchanged. AOC has since made progress in addressing the 
high heat in one tunnel, continued to remove concrete at risk of 
falling, begun to install additional egresses, expanded the current 
communication system, and moved forward with some asbestos abatement. 
While AOC is taking steps to address the problems in the tunnels and 
some progress is being made, it will take focused and sustained 
management attention, additional funding, and several years to resolve 
the problems.       

In August 2006, AOC issued a plan to resolve the problems with the 
utility tunnels identified in the OOC citations and complaint. 
According to this plan, the work would be completed by the middle of 
fiscal year 2012 and would cost about $134 million. AOC has since 
revised many of the project schedules and cost estimates in the plan, 
and further revisions are likely. As of April 2007, AOC estimated the 
work would cost over $200 million, an increase of at least 50 percent 
over its initial estimate. AOC officials attributed this increase to 
the development of additional information about the projects. For 
example, the contract AOC negotiated for the installation of additional 
egresses allowed more time and cost more than AOC initially anticipated 
because of the impact of working conditions in the tunnels on the 
contractor's bid. This newer estimate is, however, still an early 
estimate. It is based on limited information and preliminary decisions 
about how best to resolve the tunnel problems, and is expected to 
change as decisions are made and projects are designed. Congress has 
provided $77.6 million in emergency supplemental funding for the 
tunnels in fiscal years 2006 and 2007. AOC has obligated most of the 
$27.6 million provided in 2006 and spent about 13 percent of this 
funding. AOC has not yet submitted to Congress its obligation plan for 
the $50 million provided in 2007. Congressional approval of this plan 
is necessary before AOC can obligate the funds. At this rate of 
progress and spending, it will be difficult for AOC to meet its 
commitment to resolve the tunnel problems over the next 5 years.       

AOC Is Taking Steps to Address Issues in the Tunnels:       

AOC recently established a dedicated management team, including a 
project executive and two project managers, to oversee the tunnel 
improvement work, and projects to address the problems in the tunnels 
are in various stages of planning, design, and construction. Since last 
November, AOC has made some progress in addressing the problems with 
high heat, delaminating concrete,[Footnote 3] insufficient egress, 
incomplete communication in the tunnels, and potential asbestos 
exposure. While these steps are positive, it will take focused and 
sustained management attention, additional funding, and several years 
to resolve the problems.       


In one tunnel, AOC has reduced the extreme heat and the potential for 
heat stress for tunnel workers that were raised as a major issue for 
three tunnels, but heat remains a problem in two tunnels. The heat 
issue was made worse after exhaust fans in the tunnels were turned off 
because of concerns about asbestos blowing into the air. After testing 
one tunnel to ensure there were no indications of asbestos in the air, 
AOC turned on the exhaust fans in that tunnel, lessening the heat 
there, but high temperatures remain in the two other tunnels. AOC 
officials noted that the high heat in the tunnels has affected and can 
affect the progress of all work in the tunnels because workers must 
take frequent breaks to exit the tunnels and cool off.       


Some tunnels have problems with concrete that has delaminated from 
walls and ceilings, creating a hazard for workers in the tunnels and 
weakening the tunnels' structural integrity. AOC's construction 
management division continues to remove delaminating concrete in some 
tunnel sections to reduce the hazard from falling concrete and has 
shored portions of the tunnels as necessary. AOC also has a contractor 
removing delaminated concrete in other tunnel sections. This contract 
includes provisions for the contractor, in consultation with a 
structural engineer, to replace the concrete if necessary. To date, no 
areas have been identified for immediate replacement of concrete. AOC 
officials said it will continue to evaluate and repair the delaminated 
sections as necessary.       

While assessments have reported that none of the tunnels were in danger 
of collapse, AOC determined that the roof of one of the tunnels should 
be replaced. AOC contracted with the Army Corps of Engineers for the 
first phase of this work, which was to replace the ceiling in 100-foot 
sections. However, the work is complicated by the tunnel's location 
under a public street, and more recent information shows that portions 
of the walls in this tunnel may also need to be replaced. AOC has put 
the construction of this project on hold to explore alternative 
approaches to the work that needs to be completed.       


The tunnels are considered to be confined spaces that require regularly 
spaced emergency exits, or egresses. Work is underway to install two 
new egresses in the tunnels, and AOC expects to install additional 
egresses to limit the distance between them to no more than 600 feet. 
According to AOC officials, this work has taken longer and cost more 
than originally expected, in large part because of working conditions 
in the tunnels.       


Working in confined spaces such as the tunnels requires the ability to 
communicate with workers outside the tunnels for coordination and 
emergency rescue in the event of illness or accident. According to AOC 
officials, the current communication system, which uses two-way radios, 
has been expanded and is operational in the tunnels. However, routine 
operations and inspections have revealed "dead spots" in two tunnels, 
which AOC is working to address.[Footnote 4] AOC plans to explore the 
installation of a new communication system for the tunnels that would 
allow for communication with the U.S. Capitol Police and rescue workers 
if necessary. The new system would also indicate a worker's location 


When the utility tunnels were constructed in the 1930s and 1950s, 
asbestos was used to insulate the steam pipes. In January 2006, OOC 
issued a citation calling for AOC to address the potential asbestos 
hazards in the tunnels. Since then, AOC has begun repairing damaged 
asbestos; begun asbestos removal in some areas; and required anyone 
entering the tunnels to wear protective equipment, including 
respirators. Federal Occupational Health, a component of the U.S. 
Public Health Service, is on site to conduct asbestos monitoring of 
each team that enters the tunnels and reports that the results of the 
monitoring do not indicate exposure to asbestos above acceptable 
levels. At the tunnel workers' request, the National Institute for 
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted an investigation of 
the employees' exposure to certain hazards. Preliminary findings from 
NIOSH indicate that there is currently not a general concern about 
asbestos exposure that would require protective equipment to be worn, 
but heat is a major concern that could in part be reduced by 
eliminating the requirement to wear the protective equipment.       

Project Schedules and Estimated Costs Continue to Be Revised:       

AOC has committed to OOC to resolve the tunnel problems by June 2012, 
and as of April 2007 AOC increased its total cost estimate for this 
work to over $200 million. AOC officials attributed this increase to 
the development of additional information about the projects. AOC has 
revised many of the tunnel project schedules and cost estimates that it 
originally reported in its August 2006 Utility Tunnel Improvement 

In November 2006, we reported that AOC's August 2006 plan was 
incomplete, in part because AOC had not completed its assessment of the 
tunnels. In the August plan, AOC developed an initial schedule and cost 
estimate for the projects it considered necessary to resolve the 
problems in the tunnels. This estimate relied on information on the 
condition of the tunnels that was available to AOC at that time. We 
expressed concern that the plan did not contain an analysis or 
discussion of options for addressing the needs of the tunnels, and we 
noted that an ongoing alternatives study to evaluate the long-term use 
of the existing tunnels and options for meeting the Capitol Hill 
Complex's future utility distribution needs would not be complete until 
the end of fiscal year 2008. According to AOC officials, they have 
requested that their consultant accelerate the alternatives study for 
the tunnel with the most structural damage. As we reported in November 
2006, this study will explore the different options for the 
improvements and related costs that are considered the best solutions 
for resolving the tunnel problems and maintaining a reliable system for 
providing heating and cooling services to the Capitol complex.       

While AOC has increased its cost estimate for the tunnel improvements 
to over $200 million, much of the work that needs to be done is still 
in the planning or design phase, and as the work is designed and 
contracted for, the cost estimate is likely to change. Already, the 
cost estimate has increased at least 50 percent from the $134 million 
AOC estimated it would need in August 2006. Schedules for some projects 
to address the tunnel problems have slipped and due to remaining 
uncertainty, delays on some projects may continue. For example, the 
awarding of construction contracts to replace the roof in one tunnel is 
being delayed while, among other things, uncertainty related to working 
in a public street is resolved.       
Congress provided $27.6 million in emergency supplemental funding for 
tunnel projects in fiscal year 2006. AOC has obligated most of this 
money and expended $3.7 million as of July 26, 2007. In June 2007, 
Congress appropriated an additional $50 million in emergency 
supplemental funding, and AOC has requested $24.8 million in funding 
for the tunnels in fiscal year 2008. AOC has not yet submitted to 
Congress its obligation plan for the 2007 appropriation. Congressional 
approval of this plan is necessary before AOC can obligate the funds. 
At this rate of progress and spending, it may be difficult for AOC to 
meet its commitment to resolve the tunnel problems over the next 5 

Madam Chair, this completes my prepared statement. I would be pleased 
to answer any questions that you or Members of the Subcommittee may 

For further information about this testimony, please contact Terrell 
Dorn at (202) 512-6923. Other key contributors to this testimony 
include Maria Edelstein and Elizabeth Eisenstadt.       

[1] GAO, Capitol Power Plant Utility Tunnels, GAO-07-227R (Washington, 
D.C.: Nov. 16, 2006).       

[2] Additional steam and chilled water pipes are buried in covered 
trenches referred to as nonwalkable tunnels, which are accessible 
through manholes. The nonwalkable tunnels also have repair and 
maintenance needs that were outside the scope of our work.       

[3] Delaminating concrete is concrete that is separated from the steel 
reinforcing and is in danger of falling from the wall or 

[4] One of the two tunnels with "dead spots" is a nonwalkable tunnel.

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