J. Brett Blanton, appointed by Donald Trump in late 2019 to oversee design, construction, and maintenance activities within the sprawling U.S. Capitol complex in the role of the Architect of the Capitol (AOC), has been fired by President Joe Biden.
The news, delivered on Monday via a notably terse dispatch, comes three months after federal watchdog the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a blistering ten-page report accusing Blanton of a litany of ethics abuses that “violated every pillar the OIG operates under including theft, fraud, waste and abuse against not only the AOC but also the taxpayer.” Among other acts, Blanton is accused of the flagrant misuse of government property and impersonating a police officer.
“The OIG identified a significant amount of administrative, ethical and policy violations as well as evidence of criminal violations throughout the investigation,” the OIG detailed in its bombshell November 2022 report.Last week, members of the House Committee on Administration questioned Blanton, also a now-former member of the Capitol Police Board, in a hearing in which he provided testimony regarding his alleged misdeeds. During the hearing, he denied wrongdoing; he also admitted to not being on the Capitol grounds during the January 6, 2021, insurrection.The White House did not issue a formal press statement on Blanton’s February 13 termination. A senior White House official did, however, say that the decision came at the direction of the president “after doing our due diligence.” The ousting comes amid rare bipartisan outrage, with the chorus of politicians demanding for Blanton’s removal gradually increasing in volume since the release of the OIG report. There were also sharp calls for his dismissal in the days and weeks following January 6 although those calls eventually faded away as repair efforts at the ransacked Capitol got underway.
A vehicle operated by the office of the AOC, the federal agency charged with overseeing preservation and maintenance efforts at and around the U.S. Capitol. Photo by DCStockPhotography, Shutterstock
Shortly before Blanton’s dismissal by the president, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted: “The Architect of the Capitol, Brett Blanton, no longer has my confidence to continue in his job. He should resign or President Biden should remove him immediately.”
Later that same afternoon, Biden did just that.
“I agree with the president’s decision to fire the architect,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell relayed to NBC News.
The office of the AOC has not issued a statement on Blanton’s firing.
While Blanton’s shirking of ethical norms wasn’t exactly unusual for a Trump appointee, he did bring one unique quality to the job: he wasn’t a trained or licensed architect. In a departure from his predecessors, Blanton’s formal title was a misnomer. Prior to his confirmation to the powerful post of AOC, Blanton, a retired U.S. Naval Officer and airport and naval engineer by trade, served as a senior engineering manager with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
The office of the AOC, who is appointed to a ten-year term, oversees a sprawling agency tasked with the upkeep and operations of numerous historic Washington, D.C., buildings beyond just the Capitol, including the Library of Congress and U.S. Supreme Court. In total, the domain of the AOC is spread across 18.5 million square feet of facilities and 570 acres of grounds.
In a 2019 interview with RECORD, Blanton’s George W. Bush–appointed predecessor Stephen T. Ayers said: “People don’t understand what it takes to make that machine work—just the daily churn of keeping everything running, keeping occupants cool or warm, keeping the food available, processing the events, making the hearings happen, making sure more than 300 elevators work, and keeping the trains running.”
A potential replacement for Blanton has not been named.