J. Brett Blanton was fired from his role as Architect of the Capitol on Feb. 13 at the direction of President Joe Biden, a White House official told ENR.
Blanton faced growing criticism over his use of government resources and leadership of the office that, among other duties, oversees construction and renovation projects at the U.S. Capitol, Library of Congress and other federal government buildings, totaling 18.4 million sq ft.
Blanton is a licensed professional engineer and Navy veteran who came to AOC following a role overseeing Washington, D.C.-area airport projects as deputy vice president for engineering at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
The dismissal comes after the release last fall by the AOC’s Office of Inspector General of a report detailing how Blanton allowed family members to use his government-issued vehicles for vacations and misrepresented himself as a law enforcement officer.
During a House Administration Committee hearing on Feb. 9, lawmakers pressed Blanton about the report’s findings, as well as cost overruns on the Cannon House Office Building renewal project and accountability within his office.
Pressure continued to build after the hearing, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), calling for Blanton to resign or be fired.
The inspector general’s report “is filled with errors, omissions, mischaracterizations and conclusory statements lacking evidence,” Blanton claimed during the hearing.
“Given the incredible challenges the agency has overcome in the last two years, I am frustrated by the current distraction created by the inspector general’s report regarding the execution of my responsibilities in this position,” he said. “I wholeheartedly reject any assertion that I’ve engaged in unethical behavior during my service to this country.”
However, lawmakers also questioned Blanton’s leadership and long-term planning beyond what was detailed in the report. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.), chairman of the House committee, said during the hearing that the AOC organization “still faces significant challenges” after three years under Blanton’s leadership.
Steil and other lawmakers questioned AOC spending, particularly regarding security upgrades being made following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, and the Cannon building renovations, which Steil said is the most expensive project AOC has ever managed, with costs now 23% over budget.
Then-President Donald Trump nominated Blanton for the AOC post on Dec. 9, 2019. The Senate confirmed him 11 days later and he was sworn in to a 10-year appointment at the start of 2020.
During his time as AOC, Blanton and his family put 18,000 additional miles on three government vehicles beyond what he needed for work, according to the inspector general report.
His daughter called the taxpayer-funded fuel in the vehicles “free gas,” and his wife offered private U.S. Capitol tours while the building was closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic. During interviews, investigators wrote that Blanton repeatedly provided “misleading and false information.”
Despite the opportunity for Blanton to share his side of the story at the hearing, the House Administration panel's top Democrat, Joe Morelle (N.Y.) said in a statement that the official failed to directly respond to “numerous allegations of legal, ethical and administrative violations” detailed in the report.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues to begin a search for a new Architect immediately,” Morelle said.