Architect of the Capitol transcript

Bob Schieffer: Welcome to "Face to Face," the webcast brought to you by the folks who put together "Face the Nation" every week, and today Stephen Ayers, who is the Architect of the Capitol and I must say at this time of year probably the busiest man in Washington.

Stephen Ayers: It is a busy time for us, absolutely.

Bob Schieffer: Because you're getting ready for the inauguration. How many of them is this for you?

Stephen Ayers: Well this will be my second. I've been with the Architect 16 years, so I've seen a few but this is the second one for which I'm responsible.

Bob Schieffer: And you literally start getting ready for the next inauguration sort of as the people are leaving the podium for the one that's in progress, or the one that's just happened?

Stephen Ayers: That's exactly right. you know, we call that a "hot wash." So as soon as it's done we get everyone back together while all of the events are still fresh on their minds and, like your hot wash cycle on your washing machine at home, and we go through and we pick it apart and say what went well, what didn't go well, what can we do better next time to make this absolutely flawless event.

Bob Schieffer: I know it's from the tiniest detail to these massive platforms that you have to build out there. I mean one of my favorite details is that you put red, white, and blue pansies in the flower beds for the inauguration.

Stephen Ayers: That's right.

Bob Schieffer: Give me just a 60-second version of all the things you have to do?

Stephen Ayers: 043418 So for a presidential inauguration we are responsible for constructing this wonderful platform on the West front of the Capitol, and we really transform the West Front of the Capitol. You know what it looks like normally. If you look out there normally, this beautiful stadium platform for the inauguration. And we have print media stands and photography stands. We rent 30,000 chairs and put those out on the West Front of the Capitol. We'll rent over 500 port-a-potties and put those out. The Jumbo-trons, the sound system, the backup electricity systems. Everything that goes into making it happen. The flags, the bunting, all of that falls on the Architect of the Capitol to make that happen. 043504

Bob Schieffer: It was not until Ronald Reagan came to town that you began to have it on the West Front. Tell me how that came about.

Stephen Ayers: you know I think it's really a matter of accommodating more people. Inaugurations were growing and growing and the number of visitors growing and growing, and the East Front just couldn't hold that many people. And in '85 when Ronald Reagan moved that to the West Front, you know, look at the West Front. Then look at the view from the West Front of the Capitol and you know, four years ago we accommodated 1.8, 1.9 million people.

Bob Schieffer: You know I'm told that Mike Deaver who worked for President Reagan, all of what you said is true, but what really sold the President on doing it that way is being, with his history of the movies and so forth, he knew a good picture when he saw one. And they talked about how it looked from the East Front and how it looked from the West Front, and I'm told that was really the main selling point there. And obviously, like all good ideas in retrospect, you say, well of course. But -

Stephen Ayers: That does make sense.

Bob Schieffer: It does. But was the Obama inauguration in 2008, was that the largest crowd ever here in Washington?

Stephen Ayers: Yes. Well, it certainly was the largest crowd for an inauguration that I'm aware of. And I think estimates put it at 1.8 or 1.9 million people.

Bob Schieffer: It was an amazing sight. I can never recall a sight - tell me about, what are the highlights that you remember in the ones that you worked on? What do you hope never happens again? What can you do better than was done the last time? What were the best parts of the ones you remember?

Stephen Ayers: You know, a couple of things stick in my mind. First, when you have 1.8 million people gathered together, you know the physicians and emergency planners were advising us, you're going to have some health problems. And you may even have a few people that have heart attacks and die. And we were prepared for those things. But we didn't have a single person get injured when that many people came together in one location. We're really proud of that.

Bob Schieffer: You know there were also maybe just a handful of arrests. You know, 1.9 million people - I mean how many cities of 1.9 million people can go through a day with maybe two or three people getting arrested for one thing or another? And as I recall, there were almost no incidents of any kind.

Stephen Ayers: That's exactly right. And you know, one of my responsibilities is to oversee the Capitol Police. And with my House and Senate Sergeant at Arms, we make up the Capitol Police Board. So you know, securing the Capitol Campus on a presidential inauguration is really inherent in my responsibility. So you know, all of my law enforcement partners, we were ready for mass arrests, we were ready for any contingency. And we were so pleased that it was a completely peaceful event.

Bob Schieffer: It was a very peaceful day. It was, I think most people who were there were simply struck by the idea of this many people being in one place. It was a happy day.

Stephen Ayers: Yes.

Bob Schieffer: I mean I've been to a lot of inaugurations in my time, and this was one of the happiest that I can remember.

Stephen Ayers: It was a cold day as well. So another thing that sticks in my mind is, and one of the things that causes us the most anxiety, is snow. So when snow happens, the night before an inauguration, we really have to bring together hundreds of people to shovel snow and remove snow. You can imagine that entire platform and all of those chairs and walkways and sidewalks and streets, you can't just push the snow out of the way, you have to physically pick it up and remove it. So you know when George Bush was inaugurated during his second inauguration, the night before on the 19th we had several inches of snow and really had to muster and put together our snow removal plan and get rid of all of that snow. So that, I think, causes us the most anxiety.

Bob Schieffer: I guess the worst snow was the Kennedy inauguration in 1960. Heavy snow, and there was a lot of snow at Lyndon Johnson's inaugural. But I'm trying to think down through the years, those were the worst. What are you hearing about this year, weather-wise?

Stephen Ayers: Well it's too far out to make those judgments. So we're certainly hoping for a great 65-degree day like I think we're going to have this weekend. I think I have a couple of photographs if I can.

Bob Schieffer: Sure. 043945

Stephen Ayers: This happens to be JFK's on the East Front in '61. And it's interesting to see how, you know, this has transformed into what you see here today with President Obama. And I think President Reagan was right. I mean look at that backdrop.

Bob Schieffer: That's an amazing picture. How many people will actually be up on the stands up there?

Stephen Ayers: So this is the amphitheater so to speak, and this holds about 1,600 people. It's about 10,000 square feet. And up on the upper West front terrace, that will another several hundred people as well. And of course the Military band down and then out, all of the spectator. And the President, of course, is right here. But putting up the bunting and constructing this platform and the flags are all part of our responsibility.

Bob Schieffer: How big are those flags? They're enormous -

Stephen Ayers: They are enormous. And I would suspect that they're probably 20-feet wide and maybe 40 or 50-feet long.

Bob Schieffer: And where do you keep them?

Stephen Ayers: Well you know, they're new each year.

Bob Schieffer: Oh they are?

Stephen Ayers: And it's interesting how they're arranged. So of course this is, on the outer side, is the original 13 states, the flag of the original 13 states. And then of course the current flag is in the center. And this flag is when the President's home state came into the Union.

Bob Schieffer: Fascinating.

Stephen Ayers: So depending upon who is President, these two flags are going to change.

Bob Schieffer: So it is a new flag?

Stephen Ayers: It is a new flag. Every year. 044131 And lastly this is a shot of the night before from George Bush's inauguration where we had so much snow there on the West Front. But you can see there how this inaugural platform and the bleachers on the upper West Terrace and then all of the seats that are out on the West Front of the Capitol, and the jumbo-trons and sound system and lights and media towers. And you know there are probably 30 or 40 trailers that come in as well and we'll hook up electricity and plumbing and everything that's necessary to make all of that happen.

Bob Schieffer: 044207 So how close are you to having all of it done?

Stephen Ayers: Well today is Friday and Sunday is our full dress rehearsal, so we are essentially complete and we're just in cleanup mode right now. We'll go through a dress rehearsal on Sunday and just tweak around the edges.

Bob Schieffer: But so far, so good?

Stephen Ayers: Absolutely.

Bob Schieffer: No problems so far?

Stephen Ayers: This is not an environment in which we can fail.

Bob Schieffer: Alright. Thank you so much. The Architect of the Capitol. This is "Face to Face."