The Architect of the Capitol (AOC) plays a leadership role in decisions from the policing of Capitol Hill; to national standards of historic preservation; to supporting development of industry standards in fire safety, capital project management and security infrastructure.
AOC's involvement falls into three broad categories: boards and groups within Capitol Hill that are statutorily required (mandated by law), off-Capitol Hill boards required by statute, and professional organizations that play a significant role in shaping the standards and methods used in executing AOC's mission.
"Participating and serving with these groups is important for us. It broadens our circles, introducing new ideas and connecting us to new communities of practice. We can then bring back those ideas to the AOC to make us better," said Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers.
Statutory Roles on Capitol Hill
The Architect of the Capitol serves as Acting Director of the U.S. Botanic Garden and the National Garden under the Joint Committee on the Library. The Architect also serves as a member of the Capitol Police Board and the Congressional Accessibility Services Board, as well as an ex officio member of the United States Capitol Preservation Commission.
Among these boards — those on Capitol Hill and statutorily required — the United States Capitol Police (USCP) Board consumes the most attention of the Architect of the Capitol. The Capitol Police Board was established as the oversight authority for USCP administration, operations and regulations. The AOC has served as part of the Capitol Police Board since 1873 along with the Senate and House Sergeants at Arms (SAA).
"The Architect of the Capitol plays an important role on the Capitol Police Board because he provides consistency of tenure and brings a long view to the security planning of the Capitol campus," said AOC Office of Security Programs Director Ken Eads. The Architect has a long-term view because he serves a 10-year term, while the SAA are nominated every two years with each new Congress.
Ked Eads (far left) serves as AOC liaison to the Capitol Police Board.
Today, the role of the AOC on the Capitol Police Board is focused not just on aesthetics and preservation — making sure that security enhancements fit into the historic fabric — but also working collaboratively with the other voting board members on all aspects of the oversight of the USCP, from their long-term vision to near-term challenges, such as the budget sequester.
Statutory Roles Beyond Capitol Hill
The Architect of the Capitol is also a member of the District of Columbia Zoning Commission (ZC), National Building Museum, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, National Capital Memorial Commission, Art Advisory Committee to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and the National Institute for Conservation of Cultural Property.
The ZC is an independent, quasi-judicial body created by the Zoning Act of 1920 and upon which the AOC has served since its inception. The ZC is charged with preparing, adopting and amending the Zoning Regulations and Zoning Map consistent with the Comprehensive Plan for the National Capital area.
Three members of the ZC are residents of the District of Columbia appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the D.C. City Council. The fourth ZC member is the Director of the National Park Service (or his/her representative). The fifth representative of the ZC is the Architect of the Capitol (or his representative).
"Each commission member contributes a different view point to the commission. While we [AOC] bring a federal perspective to the commission, we all want what is best for the city — we want D.C. to be beautiful, successful and a vibrant place to live," said Assistant Architect of the Capitol Michael Turnbull, AOC's representative to the ZC. "The outreach to the community and being part of the overall city is critically important to the AOC and we have a great sense of pride in D.C. as a city and as the seat of our government."
Preserving L'Enfant’s vision for the City of Washington (cover photo above) is a critical responsibility of AOC's Michael Turnbull.
The Architect of the Capitol brings a historical and long-term view for future city planning that includes preserving the vision of the city founders including Pierre L'Enfant, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Adds Turnbull, "It is all a balancing act. I look out for D.C. by looking back on the history of the city and looking at future growth from an impact perspective. The city has some great architects working on some exciting projects with inspired designs. We try to find a happy medium to balance history, growth, security, and a sustainable, livable community." Turnbull rotates with other members of the Zoning Commission in sitting on the District of Columbia Board of Zoning Adjustment, another five member zoning body that hears cases related to variances, special exceptions and appeals of administrative decisions.
Another high-visibility board upon which the AOC serves a critical role is the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). According to the ACHP, its mission is to "promote the preservation, enhancement, and sustainable use of our nation's diverse historic resources, and advises the President and the Congress on national historic preservation policy."
The ACHP was formed following the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966. The ACHP is the only entity with the legal responsibility to encourage federal agencies to factor historic preservation into federal project requirements.
The president of the United States appoints four members of the general public and four historic preservation experts, including the chairman and vice chairman. The secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture and the Architect of the Capitol are permanent members of ACHP. In addition, the president designates seven federal agency heads to terms on ACHP and exofficio representatives of national preservation organizations.
According to ACHP, "each year, the federal government is involved with many projects that affect historic properties. For example, the Federal Highway Administration works with states on road improvements, the Department of Housing and Urban Development grants funds to cities to rebuild communities, and the General Services Administration builds and leases federal office space."
Adds Ayers, "The AOC has long been viewed as an expert in historic preservation work, and when the ACHP was formed, this expertise was recognized by the White House. In addition, the Architect adds long-term continuity to the ACHP, while many other agencies are brought on and off the council depending upon their need to focus attention on their preservation programs."
"We get into some very controversial issues at the council that have a number of constituencies and challenges, balancing growth and historic preservation. This includes work such as Pawtucket Dam and Cape Wind [both in Massachusetts]," said Ayers. "These decisions have far reaching effects on development and preservation on culturally important lands."
Leadership Beyond Capitol Hill
Beyond the boards and roles required by statute, the Architect is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA); Construction Users Roundtable (CURT); Construction Industry Institute (CII); Construction Management Association of America (CMAA); International Facility Management Association (IFMA); International Association of Museum Facility Administrators (IAMFA); National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS); National Historic Trust for Historic Preservation; and the George Washington Chapter of Lambda Alpha International.