The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

The CVC - Not a Capitol Idea

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


With 580,000 square feet, three underground stories, and space three-quarters the size of the Capitol itself, the Capitol Visitor Center (CVC) is a monument to Congress’s own excess.  It was recently announced that the project is experiencing yet another cost increase and construction delay.  On February 15, an official from the Government Accountability Office testified that the cost of the CVC will reach $584 million, 120 percent more than the original estimate.  Originally scheduled for completion in time for the 2005 presidential inauguration, the Architect of the Capitol (AoC) has estimated that the CVC will not be open to the public until April 2007 at the earliest.

The CVC was initially conceived in a report issued by the AoC in 1976 called “Toward a Master Plan for the United States Capitol.”  The pipe dream was consistently deemed too frivolous to gain wider support.  The AoC document lay largely dormant until 1991, when Congress appropriated $200,000 for the planning and design of a visitor center.  Security concerns after the shooting of two Capitol Police officers in 1998 garnered the plan increased support in Congress.  By January 2000, Congress approved an updated design and the project broke ground in June 2000.  Private funds were to supplement the project.   

Private funds were supposed to come from two primary sources: the sale of coins and private donations.  Coin sales raised $3.5 million for the CVC, while the fund for the CVC, beginning with a goal of $100 million in private funds, ended up raising a mere $39 million.  After several years of efforts, the fund for the CVC raised only $4 million more than the $35 million that was contributed at the fund’s opening by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Annenberg Foundation, and Coca-Cola. 

The evident lack of public enthusiasm did not stop legislators from pouring hundreds of millions of tax dollars into the CVC.  After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress appropriated $208.5 million for the CVC in fiscal 2002.  An additional $48 million was appropriated in 2004 to compensate for the increasing cost of the project, but the tax dollars were not solely for security purposes.  The plans included a great hall, an exhibition gallery, two orientation theaters, a new dining facility with a capacity for 600 people, and gift shops.

As the building of the “underground Taj Mahal” drags on, it becomes more and more apparent that the CVC was never necessary.  The CVC will go down as one of the most wasteful and expensive congressional boondoggles.

-- Jessica Shoemaker

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