Plans for a new home for the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) took a step forward in the US Congress Wednesday when the House International Relations Committee approved an amendment to a State Department funding bill that would allow spending for the full cost of the new facility.
A similar provision was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March as part of its State Department funding bill, but the full Senate has not yet acted on the measure.
Both measures would replace earlier language that would limit spending to US$75 million, well below current estimates for the cost of the new facility, which is planned to be built in Taipei's Neihu District later this decade.
The new headquarters would move the AIT offices, along with the headquarters of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) to what used to be the Taipei City Driver Training Center on Jinhu Road, on the outskirts of the city.
When AIT signed a 99-year lease on the new 2.6 hectare site Dec. 22, news reports pegged the cost at around US$160 million.
However, in an April 5 letter to the leaders of a House Appropriations Committee subcommittee considering the issue at the time, the four co-chairmen of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus estimated the price at US$143 million.
The Congressional Budget Office, on the other hand, in a March 18 estimate, quoted the State Department as putting the price at US$153 million. The office said that roughly US$20 million had already had been spent on site acquisition and design.
The House committee move allowing full funding came on an amendment to the funding bill by one of the caucus co-chairmen, Sherrod Brown of Ohio. It would change the earlier US$75 million spending limit with the words, "such sums as may be necessary," to reflect the increased estimated cost of the new headquarters.
Congress set the US$75 million limit when it approved construction of the new facility in 2000 by enacting the "American Institute in Taiwan Facilities Enhancement Act."
Brown, in offering his amendment, called the current AIT building on Hsinyi Road "antiquated, poorly located, and inadequate to serve the important interests of the United States in the region."
He bemoaned the fact that now, five years after passage of the bill authorizing the new facility, no money for the project had been allocated.
"With construction of the half-billion dollar US embassy in Beijing underway. US financial, foreign policy, and security interests in the region cannot be met without a new AIT facility," Brown said, echoing the language of the April letter he and the other caucus co-chairmen signed.
He called on all committee members to "show their support for our democratic allies in Taiwan" by making sure the AIT facility is fully funded.
In addition to Brown, the caucus leaders are Steve Chabot, also of Ohio, Dana Rohrabacher of California and Robert Wexler of Florida.
It is not clear when work on the new building will begin, although some earlier reports said that the first dirt could be dug by 2008. The Congressional Budget Office, in its cost estimate, assumed that construction would begin in 2007 and end in 2010.