- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

The price tag for the cleanup of the Hart Senate Office Building, which reopened at noon yesterday after a three-month closure due to anthrax contamination, is at $14 million and climbing.
How much higher the cost will go, officials can't say.
That figure is "still being compiled," according to Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols, who spoke at a news conference yesterday with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some members of Congress are afraid the cleaning costs have spun out of control. As first reported yesterday by The Washington Times, Sen. Charles E. Grassley sought accountability for the high costs in a letter posted Friday to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Mr. Grassley said he wrote the EPA not only "to determine that money was spent in the right way," but also to establish a "benchmark" for total expected spending in case the agency is faced with future bioterrorism cleanup situations.
If it turns out money has been spent wrongly, it will be "a bit like exposing the $600 toilet seat in the Defense Department," said Mr. Grassley, who uncovered the infamous expenditure during the mid-1980s.
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.
In his letter to Mrs. Whitman a copy of which was obtained by The Times 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. "It's my effort to be as transparent as we can on these costs," he said yesterday. "Taxpayers have a right to know what the costs were."
Joe Maryak, a spokesman for Mrs. Whitman, said yesterday that the EPA has received the letter from Mr. Grassley and will be getting back to the senator.
Richard Rupert, the agency's on-scene coordinator for the Hart cleanup, said he was not certain how many companies were subcontracted to assist in the cleanup. "We have a number of standing contracts with companies who work on emergencies we respond to," he said. "Beyond that, the companies brought in would be subcontractors, and I'm not sure how many we have, maybe a half-dozen When Sen. Grassley asks, I'm going to sit down and give him a detailed list."
Mr. Grassley also requested an explanation on 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.
Mr. Grassley said part of his concern about the cleaning costs stems from the EPA's recent attempt to eliminate the position of Robert Martin, the agency's ombudsman. "Trying to eliminate this position gives the appearance of attempting to silence a critic," he said.
Some have said the importance of certifying the safety of those who hold offices in Hart should not be second-guessed when examining how much the cleanup costs. "We've been plowing new ground here," Lt. Nichols said. "I think the agencies involved should be complimented for the work they have done."
The nine-story Hart building, built in the early 1980s for about $140 million, houses offices for half of the U.S. Senate's 100 members and sits across from Union Station.
It was closed Oct. 17 after an anthrax-tainted letter was opened in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office suite. The suite won't be ready for normal use until mid-March because it was "stripped down to bare walls and bare floors during the cleanup," Lt. Nichols said.
That didn't stop Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, from making a ceremonial entrance into the building yesterday. "It's going to be so much better to be able to go back into these offices, return to normal and do the work of the Senate," he said. He also defended the extended cleanup, saying, "It's always important to put safety over convenience."
The rest of the building was abuzz with activity as congressional staffers who've been cramped into other spaces across Capitol Hill returned to their offices.
"We left this place on Oct. 17 thinking we'd be gone for a day or two while they tested the Daschle suite," said Paul Anderson, a spokesman for Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat. "It feels terrific to get back in here."
"The fact that we lasted as long as we did is a testament to the cooperation and professionalism of all the Senate staffs we were all piled on top of each other for the last three months," Mr. Anderson said, adding that the only casualties suffered by the office were two palm trees that weren't watered for 98 days.

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