- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Some members of Congress are afraid the costs of cleaning the anthrax-contaminated Hart Senate Office Building are spinning out of control.
The building, closed Oct. 17 after an anthrax-tainted letter was opened in the sixth-floor office suite of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, was scheduled to reopen for normal business today, U.S. Capitol Police said.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, was seeking accountability for the more than $14 million it took for the Environmental Protection Agency to disinfect the building.
In a letter posted Friday to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, Mr. Grassley said he understood the agency's effort to disinfect the building was a "massive undertaking as evidenced by the small city of trailers and tents that have cropped up near the Hart building."
"And while I'm also confident that you take our safety very seriously, I am concerned about the fiscal integrity of this operation," he wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.
Mr. Grassley said he was notified by EPA officials last week that the estimated cost through the end of December for the cleanup of all Capitol Hill buildings was $14 million and that the Hart project was 96 percent of that about $13.4 million. This amount "surely will increase by the time the remediation is complete and the building reopened," he wrote to Mrs. Whitman.
The EPA spent nearly $150,000 a day through December to hire private contractors for experimental chemical fumigation of areas in the Hart building known to be contaminated with anthrax spores. The original cost of building the nine-story structure, which opened in 1982, was about $140 million.
Mr. Grassley said his concern about the cleaning bills has been heightened by the EPA's attempts to eliminate the position of Robert Martin, the agency's ombudsman. "The EPA's ombudsman provides an important oversight and watchdog role," he wrote. "Trying to eliminate this position gives the appearance of attempting to silence a critic."
He also said he was disturbed by revelations that EPA officials, in the wake of anthrax attacks, hired a company to clean the agency's downtown New York City offices for hazardous materials after telling worried residents near ground zero they needed to clean their homes only with wet rags and mops. "It looks like the EPA isn't practicing what it preaches," he wrote. "I fear that an attitude of accountability at the EPA may be slipping."
During the remediation, the EPA paid private firms, including Atlanta-based Sterilization Services Inc., to disinfect as many as seven truckloads of office materials from the Hart building at the company's Richmond warehouse.
"As ranking member of the Senate Committee on Finance, my responsibilities include overseeing any government outlays of taxpayer funds," Mr. Grassley, Iowa Republican, wrote to the EPA. "In a task of such large magnitude, costs can very easily escalate, and there can be a tendency to run up the tab."
During the fumigation, hired crews pumped toxic chlorine dioxide gas into the office of Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and the ventilation ducts in the walls surrounding the office. It took three attempts to fumigate the areas effectively. Work crews also vacuumed the floor; wiped off desks, walls and other surfaces; and performed spot applications of chlorine dioxide liquid and an antibacterial foam to rid the building of lingering anthrax spores.
Mr. Grassley requested that the EPA provide by Friday a list of the private companies employed and how much each was paid to participate in the cleaning effort, as well as a detailed description of the process by which each was hired.
He also requested an explanation of specifically which funds were allocated from which agency budgets to pay for the cleanup. In addition, he asked to see copies of contracts between the EPA and other government agencies, such as the Senate sergeant-at-arms, that spelled out who ultimately would pay for the cleanup of the Hart building and other Capitol facilities.
In a separate letter posted Friday to Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Alfonso Lenhardt, Mr. Grassley asked whether Mr. Lenhardt's office would be "requesting additional appropriations to pay for this, or are current funds sufficient."
EPA officials were not available for comment yesterday as their offices were closed in observance of Martin Luther King Day.
Their initial hopes to reopen the Hart building by mid-November were dashed after technicians had difficulty reaching the required humidity levels for the chlorine dioxide fumigation to kill lingering anthrax spores.
Plans to reopen the building last week hit another snag after teams conducting a final sweep of the building found a bag of hazardous-materials gear crammed into a hallway ceiling outside Mr. Daschle's office.
U.S. Capitol Police said final tests indicated no traces of anthrax spores in the area where the gear was discovered, and they found no indication of criminal activity. The results cleared the way for today's return of more than 1,000 employees to the building that houses offices of half of the U.S. Senate's 100 members.

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