Capitol Power Plant:

Status of Utility Tunnel Projects

GAO-07-1150T: Published: Aug 1, 2007. Publicly Released: Aug 1, 2007.

Additional Materials:


Terrell G. Dorn
(202) 512-3000


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

The Architect of the Capitol (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. 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. This testimony focuses 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.

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. Summary 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.

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