Congress

Ready to manage a world-famous building and grapple with a billion-dollar backlog? This job’s for you

Hunt for new Architect of the Capitol underway

The search for a new Architect of the Capitol is underway, led by executive search firm JDG Associates. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Do you like historic buildings? Are you undaunted by the prospect of working with tenants who are also your bosses and can’t seem to agree on much of anything? 

Then this job is for you.

The search for a new architect of the Capitol is underway, led by executive search firm JDG Associates.

The Rockville-based firm was hired to find a 12th architect of the Capitol, and JDG’s president, Darren DeGioia, is leading the project.

The firm is looking for someone ready to take on the massive AOC portfolio, including the upkeep and preservation of more than 17.4 million square feet of facilities and 580 acres of grounds on the Capitol campus. That includes the historic House and Senate office buildings, the Capitol itself, thousands of works of art and even the trees that dot the campus.

“By mutual agreement, we have hired a search firm,” said Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt of Missouri. Blunt is part of the 14-person commission that will assemble to recommend candidates to the president.

The group, made up of the speaker, the president pro tempore, majority and minority leaders of both chambers, and the chairs and ranking members of the House Administration and Senate Rules committees and the Appropriations panels in both chambers, has not yet met, according to Blunt, but agreed to move forward to hire JDG.

The next architect will be just the third to be selected under a 1989 statute that not only established a 10-year term for the post but also laid out a search and nomination procedure in which the bipartisan, bicameral commission of congressional leaders forwards three names to the president, who then appoints one of the finalists, subject to Senate confirmation.

Blunt said he did not know how many candidates the firm would put together for the commission to choose from.

“We’ll narrow them, but how large a group we’ll be able to work with, I don’t know,” he said.

Since the firm’s selection, advertisements have been posted, Blunt said. It’s moving forward, but a timeline is not yet clear. The process of selecting a new architect of the Capitol can drag on for years.

“We hope to do this as quickly as we can. My understanding is that we are ahead of where this process was at this time last time. I hope we wind up with nominees that are actually all willing to take the job, which didn't happen last time,” said Blunt.

A previous AOC stepped down in February 2007, and a list of candidates was sent to President George W. Bush that August. In October, Kemel Dawkins, the vice president for campus services at Duke University, asked that his name be taken off the list, throwing a curveball into the search. It was not until February 2010 that President Barack Obama officially nominated Stephen T. Ayers, and the Senate confirmed him that May.

JDG Associates are looking for candidates that fit a unique set of criteria.

“A strategic visionary and transformative leader with a minimum of 20 years of experience in facilities operation and construction management,” is the first qualification listed.

The next architect of the Capitol will take on daunting projects, including the 10-year, $752 million renewal of the Cannon House Office Building, improvements to the Russell Senate Office Building, a huge restoration of the Senate’s underground garages and preservation of the Capitol’s exterior.

The job posting says candidates should have “financial acumen and proven ability to prepare and manage a large budget.” The agency’s fiscal 2019 funding topped $733 million, which is a sizable account to manage. The agency’s $1.376 billion deferred maintenance and capital renewal backlog means that whoever takes the job will have tough decisions to make.

“AOC employees are in a race against time as the infrastructure rapidly deteriorates and projects continue to accumulate,” former Architect of the Capitol Ayers told lawmakers earlier this year.

The posting lists “architectural training and licensure a plus,” not as a requirement. That leaves the door open for non-architects to be considered for the role, as Dawkins was in 2007. Federal law does not require the AOC to be an architect. 

In 2007, the American Institute of Architects raised concerns about the architect of the Capitol, potentially not being an actual architect and their position hasn't changed much in 12 years.   

“The American Institute of Architects firmly believes that a licensed architect is the most qualified to serve as the Architect of the Capitol,” said AIA chief lobbyist Jim Brewer.

“Licensed architects are a natural fit for the position because of their education and experience. Specifically, their expertise in preserving historic structures; managing complex design and construction projects and multi-disciplinary teams; as well as their cutting-edge knowledge in building security and safety technologies are just a few of the qualities that make them the logical choice,” he said. 

The 162-year-old group, which represents more than 94,000 American architects, has previously helped develop the final list of nominees who interviewed for the post. They’ve even sent architects they’ve endorsed to the commission for consideration during previous search processes.

Brewer said that AIA is in contact with House and Senate committees, as well as JDG Associates about the search for a new architect of the Capitol. The group aims to be a“primary source throughout this process” for those charged with selecting candidates. 

While officials work to find someone new to fill the role, acting Architect of the Capitol Christine Merdon is leading the agency. She gave testimony to the Senate Rules panel in December on human resources practices and answered dozens of lawmaker questions. 

Blunt said she will be an asset to the agency as the search is underway.

“I believe that the acting architect has the kind of background here that can help us in the interim to take what I believe has been some of the laxity out of the system,” he said.

ICYMI: Growing Pains: A Brief History of the 6 House and Senate Office Buildings

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.