Thomas Austin appointed Architect of the Capitol after January 6–related fallout against predecessor

Thomas Austin, a professional engineer and retired U.S. Army Colonel, recently began his appointment as Architect of the Capitol (AOC). Austin replaces interim AOC Chere Rexroat who took power in February 2023 after the 12th AOC, J. Brett Blanton, was fired.

Austin is the 13th AOC and was unanimously selected by the bicameral Congressional Commission for the job in May. After his term began on June 24, Austin is now responsible for preserving and maintaining 18.4 million square feet of buildings and 570 acres of campus grounds throughout Washington, D.C. He oversees 2,400 employees and a $1 billion operating budget.

Austin’s mandate includes the U.S. Capitol building, the House and Senate Office Buildings, Capitol Visitor Center, Library of Congress Buildings, U.S. Supreme Court Building, Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building, and other facilities. He is now acting director of the U.S. Botanic Garden, among other important roles. Austin previously held positions centered on facilities management of government campuses, among these the Arlington National Cemetery and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Upon his appointment, the Congressional Commission said in a statement: “The Architect of the Capitol plays a vital role in welcoming millions of visitors to our Capitol and ensuring it is a functional workplace. Thomas Austin has managed construction projects and facilities of all sizes, maintained one of our nation’s most hallowed landmarks, and served our country in the military. We are confident that with his extensive experience, Thomas Austin will be an adept and capable Architect of the Capitol.”

Austin’s appointment follows a slew of controversies in the AOC office. He proceeds J. Brett Blanton, the 12th AOC appointed by former President Trump. After the January 6 uprising, when in 2021 hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, Blanton was among those criticized for not doing enough to fortify the building from rioters.

Later, in 2022, an investigative report by a watchdog agency found that Blanton had personally given tours to “patriots” in the days leading up to the November 2020 election. He was also found guilty of using government SUVs for personal uses, a violation of his contract. The New York Times also found that Blanton had “[misled] investigators, and impersonated a police officer on multiple occasions.”

Blanton was appointed to serve as AOC until his term expired in 2030, however, in February 2023, President Biden fired him, a termination which had bipartisan support. The search for a new AOC took 10 months, it followed the passage of the Architect of the Capitol Appointment Act in December 2023, which formally established a “bipartisan congressional commission to, by majority vote, appoint, reappoint, and remove the Architect.” Prior to this act the AOC was appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

On May 22, the bicameral Congressional Commission announced Austin’s unanimous selection, and his term began on June 24. On July 1, AIA hosted a welcome reception in the Speaker of the House’s office for Austin.

Austin has a 10-year term which expires in 2034.

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