Acting architect of the Capitol dismisses several top officials in wake of Blanton’s departure

Acting architect of the Capitol dismisses several top officials in wake of Blanton’s departure

Several members of the Architect of the Capitol’s leadership team were fired Thursday, according to an internal email obtained by CQ Roll Call and two aides familiar with the matter, in a further shakeup at the agency after the February removal of its head, J. Brett Blanton.

The AOC’s general counsel, chief financial officer, chief administrative officer, CEO for visitor services and chief of staff were removed Thursday, one senior congressional aide said Friday. The internal email referred only to “several” members of the leadership team. A second aide confirmed the authenticity of the email, but not the number of positions involved.

Acting Architect of the Capitol Chere Rexroat, who filled the position when President Joe Biden removed Blanton after a series of ethics violations surfaced, circulated an email to AOC staff Friday informing them of the personnel changes.

“The last several years have been challenging for the AOC community,” Rexroat wrote in the email. “You served on the frontlines of a once in a generation pandemic, the events of January 6th, and saw the leader of our agency removed by the President of the United States.”

“As of April 6, 2023, several members of the C-Suite Leadership team are no longer with the agency,” Rexroat continued. “While this will present a challenge in the short term, these personnel actions are vital to our long-term success and renewed accountability in partnership with Congress.”

The agency didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The AOC is responsible for the maintenance, operation, development and preservation of the Capitol complex. The agency came under fire after an October 2022 inspector general report alleged a series of ethical breaches by Blanton.

According to that report, Blanton, who was appointed to a 10-year term by President Donald Trump in 2019, cost taxpayers nearly $14,000 by misusing his government-issued vehicle. He led prohibited private tours of the Capitol while it was closed to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic and he allegedly misrepresented himself as a law enforcement officer on at least one occasion, the report found.

The Committee on House Administration and the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration have oversight authority of the AOC. House Administration called Blanton in to testify in February — marking the first time he spoke publicly about the accusations in the inspector general report.

Blanton confirmed at the hearing that he was teleworking on Jan. 6, 2021, when the Capitol was breached by a group of pro-Trump protesters. Despite his position, he testified that he wasn’t sure he would have been able to gain access to the Capitol “because of the security situation” and instead opted to respond to the crisis remotely.

His failure to respond in-person on the day of the attack drew the ire of both panels’ Democrats and Republicans.

Biden fired Blanton Feb. 13, amid growing and bipartisan calls for his removal.

Rexroat didn’t name the members of the leadership team fired in her internal memo. But the agency’s senior leadership team numbers about 20, according to Kevin Mulshine, a former AOC inspector general.

She also didn’t comment on the circumstances of the senior leaders’ firing, though two recent inspector general reports took issue with actions in the office.

One, published in March, found that 17 employees — including the general counsel and the chief administrative officer — received a tip in December 2021 alleging that Blanton and members of his family had misused his government-issued vehicle.

“All 17 employees failed to notify the OIG of the complaint received,” the report says.

A second inspector general report, also released in March, found that the chief executive officer of the Capitol Visitor Center violated agency policies by engaging in a romantic relationship with a subordinate “in her chain of command,” the report states.

Rexroat, in her email, said that the Government Accountability Office would undertake its own review to “further demonstrate commitment to our values.”

“In addition to our internal analysis, these reviews are one component of the comprehensive effort to ensure our path forward is one in which we respect each other and our work; operate with integrity; ensure the safety of everyone who enters the Capitol complex; and empower one another to contribute to the success of the AOC,” Rexroat wrote.

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