Hit & Run

Congress' Vanity Lair Springs a Leak

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In our March print issue, I wrote:

In the early 1990s, Congress got the idea that America needed an underground facility where tourists could escape D.C.'s sticky Augusts and biting Februaries while lining up to tour the Capitol. Estimated cost: $70 million.

In the 15 years since, the project has morphed into a sprawling, $621 million, three-story, ostentatious shrine to "the legislative process." In other words, Congress built a tribute to itself. The new building, which opened in December (three years late and $300 million over the revised budget), includes a TV studio (with make-up room) for members to record messages to their constituents, a 450-seat dining area, two orientation theaters, an auditorium, and an exhibition hall.

Part of the delay and added cost came after September 11, where a plan to vamp up the facility's security turned into a second round of add-on bells and whistles.

But there is one thing Congress apparently forgot to factor into its massive monument to itself: The possibility of rain.