Architect of the Capitol:
A Formalized Process Could Improve Management of the Construction Division's Workforce and Workload
GAO-19-343: Published: Mar 27, 2019. Publicly Released: Mar 27, 2019.
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The Architect of the Capitol maintains more than 18.4 million square feet of buildings in Washington, D.C., including the U.S. Capitol, House and Senate office buildings, and the Library of Congress.
The Architect of the Capitol may use its Construction Division for renovations and repairs. The Division relies primarily on temporary workers, which allows it to quickly adjust its workforce to match its workload.
We recommended that the Division formalize how it collects information on the agency's construction priorities to help it ensure the appropriate workforce will be available when needed.
A Construction Project for the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.
Construction workers in Washington, D.C. with the U.S. Capitol in the background.
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What GAO Found
The Architect of the Capitol's (AOC) Construction Division (hereafter the Division) is designed to serve as a flexible option that the 10 operational jurisdictions that comprise AOC can use to meet their facility needs. In their efforts to manage the buildings and grounds of the U.S. Capitol complex, AOC's jurisdictions have used the Division for projects that vary widely in cost, complexity, and duration (see figure). For example, over the last 5 fiscal years, the jurisdictions have used the Division for projects ranging in cost from about $1,000 to about $10 million and in scope from hazardous material testing to multiyear lighting-system upgrades. Jurisdiction officials cited the Division's flexibility in adjusting to scope and other changes to keep a project on schedule as one of the reasons they may decide to use the Division instead of an outside contractor. While jurisdiction officials said they were generally satisfied with the Division's services, officials from two jurisdictions suggested that the Division consider changing how it operates—for example, by transferring some positions to its parent organization in an effort to lower what it charges the jurisdictions. According to AOC officials, making changes such as this one to the Division's operations could have varying effects, such as increasing how much funding AOC would require from other sources beyond the jurisdictions.
Examples of Construction Division Projects
The Division has taken steps to strategically manage its workforce to help ensure that it has the right number and composition of staff to meet the jurisdictions' needs but has not formalized the process it uses for collecting information on the jurisdictions' construction priorities each month. Because the Division's workload is driven by projects the jurisdictions hire it to perform, such things as changes in projects' priorities and work to be performed make determining future workforce needs challenging. The Division's approach to managing its workforce generally aligns with practices that GAO has previously identified that help agencies strategically manage their human capital. This approach includes having strategies to address gaps if the size and composition of an agency's workforce are not aligned with its workload requirements. However, because the Division has not formalized the process it uses to collect information each month on the jurisdictions' construction priorities it may miss opportunities to obtain information that is critical to making informed decisions. The Division also cannot provide reasonable assurance to AOC management and Congress that it is taking the steps necessary to manage its workload and that it is basing its workforce projections on the most current information available.
Why GAO Did This Study
AOC is organized into 10 jurisdictions that operate and maintain the buildings and grounds of the U.S. Capitol complex. For projects such as renovations and repairs, the jurisdictions can use their own employees, a contractor, or AOC's Construction Division, which is staffed with trade workers such as electricians and plumbers. Most of the Division's staff are employed on a temporary basis and paid with funds the Division receives from the jurisdictions for projects it executes on their behalf. In March 2017, AOC laid off 30 of the Division's approximately 190 temporary employees, citing a lack of work from the jurisdictions.
GAO was asked to review the Division's operations. This report examines the jurisdictions' use of the Division and the Division's management of its workforce, among other issues. GAO analyzed information on projects the Division completed during fiscal years 2014 through 2018, reviewed AOC policies, visited the sites of six projects that are illustrative of the work the Division performs for the jurisdictions, and interviewed AOC staff, including officials from AOC's 10 jurisdictions and five of the employees AOC laid off in 2017.
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends that AOC formalize the process the Division uses for collecting information on the jurisdictions' construction priorities each month, such as through developing written procedures. AOC concurred with GAO's recommendation.
Recommendation for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) is organized into 10 jurisdictions that are responsible for maintaining more than 18.4 million square feet of buildings, including the U.S. Capitol, House and Senate office buildings, and the Library of Congress. For renovations, repairs, and new construction, the jurisdictions can use their own employees, a private contractor, or AOC's Construction Division. AOC's Construction Division is designed to be a flexible option for the jurisdictions and operates in response to their needs. It is comprised primarily of trade workers such as electricians, plumbers, and masons that it employs on a temporary basis. In March 2019, GAO reported that the Division was taking steps to help ensure that it had the right number and composition of trade workers to meet the jurisdictions' needs but had not formalized the process it used for collecting information on the jurisdictions' construction priorities each month. Specifically, GAO found that the Division lacked written procedures for a monthly data call used to gather information on the jurisdictions' construction priorities to help ensure staff understands who is responsible for collecting information from the jurisdictions, what information should be collected, and when that information should be collected. Formalized processes, such as written procedures, can help ensure that steps an agency is taking can be implemented in a predictable, repeatable, and accountable way. Formalized processes are also a key component of internal control designed to provide reasonable assurance that an organization's operations are effective and efficient. As a result, GAO recommended that AOC formalize the process the Division uses to collect information on the jurisdictions' construction priorities each month, such as through developing written procedures. In May 2019, GAO confirmed that AOC took steps to formalize the Division's information collection process. Specifically, AOC issued a memorandum outlining its requirements for the Construction Division to collect information on the jurisdictions' construction priorities. Those requirements include conducting a monthly data call to obtain the most up-to-date information available on projects' scope, timing, and any other expectations and monthly meetings with jurisdictions to review and validate their data. AOC also identified the staff position responsible for conducting the monthly data call. By taking this step, AOC is better positioned to ensure that (1) the Division's process will be implemented consistently, (2) the jurisdictions understand what information is expected of them, and (3) the Division bases its workforce projections on the most current information available.
Recommendation: The Architect of the Capitol should formalize the process the Construction Division uses to collect information on the jurisdictions' construction priorities each month, such as through developing written procedures. (Recommendation 1)
Agency Affected: Architect of the Capitol