The Capitol's Accidental Monument





It isn't often that Washington generates a memorial structure simultaneously with the era it happens to exemplify. But the dollar-devouring construction pit known as the Capitol Visitors Center deserves a more candid title. The Big Debt Dig, perhaps, as the center's cost overruns mount apace with the egregious mass of deficit, debt and interest run-ups that will mark the larger budget folly of the Bush era for generations to come.

The latest word on the center, the largest expansion project in Capitol history, is that its original estimated cost of $265 million has more than doubled, to as much as $584 million — about $1,000 a square foot — with the anticipated opening, in 2007, more than two years late.

The spacious subterranean center is designed to better accommodate the camera-toting, fanny-packed taxpayers who want to see how Congress works. And appropriately, they'll begin by walking through the heart of owe-as-you-go government.

Project officials claim that the problem has been security costs, contractor fights and dwindling sandstone supplies, not blue-sky initial estimates. Congressional overseers, lately chagrined at the annual overages (generated in part by the lawmakers' decision to tack on $88 million for new offices and meeting halls for themselves) are sanctimoniously planning a detailed "lessons learned report." This is so elected successors down the decades may learn something about what not to do.



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