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Capitol Power Plant Utility Tunnels

GAO-07-227R Published: Nov 16, 2006. Publicly Released: Nov 16, 2006.
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The Architect of the Capitol (AOC), through the Capitol Power Plant (CPP), 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 23 surrounding facilities. The tunnels also carry other utilities, such as fiber optic and telephone lines. The Office of Compliance (OOC), which is responsible for advancing safety, health, and workplace rights in the legislative branch, and the tunnel workers have raised concerns about health and safety issues in the tunnels. Specifically, in March 2006, the utility tunnel workers sent a letter to Congress complaining of unsafe working conditions in the tunnels, including falling concrete, asbestos, and extreme heat. 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. According to OOC officials, these conditions had been previously brought to the attention of AOC by OOC inspectors as early as 1999. Following a reinspection in mid-2005, OOC determined that AOC had not made sufficient progress in addressing them and that conditions in the tunnels had deteriorated further. In addition, in January 2006, OOC issued citations for and asked AOC to address a potential asbestos hazard and heat stress conditions. In light of these concerns, Congress asked us to review the condition of the tunnels. Accordingly, we examined (1) the current condition of the tunnels, (2) AOC's plan for making repairs and improvements to the tunnels, and (3) the responsiveness of AOC's plan to the issues raised by OOC and the tunnel workers.

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InspectionProtective equipmentPublic utilitiesRepairsSafety regulationSafety standardsStrategic planningOccupational safetyAsbestosWorkers