Big Hole in White House Lawn Prompts Equally Big Questions

President Obama, who has been traveling the country urging Congress to pass his jobs bill so Americans can be put to work on infrastructure projects, need only look out a window in the West Wing to see one such project. Under way on his front lawn for the last 17 months, it is highly visible and yet mysterious.

For the first time in recent memory, the ground and pipes beneath the Oval Office are exposed, and each day, workers lower massive concrete blocks several stories underground. Cranes, trucks and construction workers file in and out of the hole, usually through a passageway between the White House and the Old Executive Office Building.

The cavernous hole has inspired much speculation. Is it an Olympic-size swimming pool for the fitness-conscious first couple? A more spacious bunker? A place, perhaps, to hide the deficit?

The General Services Administration says it is an elaborate renovation of the building’s aging air-conditioning and electrical systems. These upgrades take place periodically, a G.S.A. spokeswoman, Sara Merriam, said, adding that Washington’s Big Dig would soon continue on the other side of the White House grounds.

“As part of this project,” Ms. Merriam said in an e-mail, “G.S.A. has been excavating and installing replacement utilities in front of the West Wing and once this phase is complete will sequentially upgrade utilities moving to the North Lawn over to the East Wing.”

The final phase of construction will take place near the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, made famous as the spot where Vice President Dick Cheney took shelter in the hours after the 9/11 attacks while his boss remained on Air Force One, awaiting the all-clear to return to Washington.

Although White House officials say they don’t know too much about the construction, some have said they think it is, as one put it, “security related.”

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