Congress appoints Army veteran Thomas Austin as new architect of the Capitol

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Thomas Austin, an Army veteran and former director of engineering at Arlington National Cemetery, has been named the new architect of the Capitol and will assume the role on June 24, the congressional commission tasked with filling the position announced Wednesday.

Austin will permanently fill the role that was vacated when President Joe Biden removed J. Brett Blanton in February 2023. The architect is responsible for the maintenance, operation, development and preservation of the Capitol complex. Architects of the Capitol are appointed to serve a term of 10 years.

“The Architect of the Capitol plays a vital role in welcoming millions of visitors to our Capitol and ensuring it is a functional workplace,” the commission said in a joint statement. “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 is currently a senior program manager for a construction consulting firm and in the past was chief of the Facility Programs Division for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. He retired from the Army in 2023 as a colonel after serving nearly three decades in engineering and leadership roles, including overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the joint statement. He’s a licensed professional engineer and certified construction manager.

He will helm an Architect of the Capitol office that for years has been mired in controversy. 

An inspector general report released in 2022 found Blanton had misused his government-issued vehicle, abused his authority and wasted close to $14,000 in taxpayer funds. Blanton remained in office for months following the report, but after a tense House Administration hearing early in the 118th Congress, was fired by Biden.

Several other top officials were removed in the wake of Blanton’s firing. And in the past year, former employees have filed a series of discrimination complaints painting a picture of what they said was a dysfunctional and hostile workplace. 

Chere Rexroat, a chief engineer at the agency, stepped in as acting architect following Blanton’s departure. In February, Rexroat announced she’d return to her previous role. The AOC’s Chief of Operations Joseph DiPietro has stepped in as acting architect since.

Austin’s appointment is the first since the passage of legislation in December that authorized a congressional commission to appoint and remove an AOC by a bipartisan, majority vote. In the past, the president appointed architects based on recommendations from Congress.

That commission included House and Senate leadership and the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Rules and Administration, House Administration and Senate and House Appropriations committees.

The identification of Arlington National Cemetery was corrected in this report.

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