When asked how Rep. Mica came up with the plan to move the gallery into the FTC headquarters, his aides said they weren't sure. But they defended the plan, and said there are a number of solid reasons for Mica's dedication to seeing it happen.
The congressman's zeal, they said, stems from his desire to see Washington, D.C. benefit from a popular tourist attraction, and from his love of the gallery's collection and art in general. They also said that over time, they remained convinced that the proposal will save the government some $300 million, because the National Gallery would assume the cost of future building renovations using privately raised funds.
"He thinks it makes good economic sense for the taxpayers" to push the cost of renovating the 80-year-old building off to the gallery, and to eliminate the expense the gallery now pays to lease space to store the art it cannot put on display, said Justin Harclerode, Mica's spokesman. "The Gallery has art it can't display. He feels it would be wise to use that space, which is right across from the Gallery's other facilities … [and] open it up to much greater public use and benefit."
After the Congressional Budget Office released its cost estimate last week, Mica personally met with officials there to contest their findings. They argued that the estimate was based on the assumption that the government would need to build a new headquarters for the FTC. Mica's aides said that wasn't necessary.
Attempts by ABC News to confirm whether there is adequate federal office space for the FTC available were unsuccessful. The agency that tracks federal office space, the General Services Administration, declined to answer questions on the topic. Mica's committee has authority over the GSA's projects and leases.
Mica's office said the congressman would be fine-tuning the language in the bill in coming weeks to make clear they have not authorized the government to build a new headquarters for the FTC employees that would be displaced by the museum -- a move they expect will dramatically reduce the current, $270 million price tag, if not eliminate it altogether. Harclerode said Mica has no plans to stop pushing.
"He's very much a fan of art in the museum and just the arts in general," he said.