The Government Printing Office prints passports less than a mile from the Capitol, yet its police force is mostly made up of contracted security guards. The resulting gaps in security are “astounding,— according to GPO union chief Alvin Hardwick.
“Using security guards to do the job of federally trained officers not only doesn’t save money, it also weakens security considerably,— Hardwick, chairman of the GPO Police Labor Committee, told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch on Tuesday. “Indeed, these lapses at the GPO building represent a considerable security threat.—
Security guards — rather than officers — stand alone at the agency’s public entrance, he said. GPO officers are also absent in the garage, where the Capitol Police store their hazardous material response vehicles.
But Hardwick conceded that the GPO has made some improvements since he testified in front of the subcommittee two years ago. Members were shocked then by what they heard and slipped language into that year’s appropriations bill requiring the GPO to make some changes.
Since then, the GPO has steadily increased the number of officers. In 2007, the agency hit a low of 27. Now, it employs 45.
Hardwick also said that four police officers now guard the agency’s passport facility during the day, while in the past contracted security guards were allowed to protect it. Two officers safeguard the place at night.
GPO spokesman Gary Somerset declined to comment on where officers are posted, citing security concerns. But he said the agency has hired 10 officers in the past year alone and plans to hire eight more this year.
“GPO has the appropriate law enforcement resources to respond to any level of emergency at the agency,— he said.
Security guards, however, still outnumber officers, with the GPO paying for 53 to help guard the agency’s large building at North Capitol and H streets. None is able to respond to calls off-site, according to Hardwick.
The agency’s police force has no formal relationship with nearby local and federal law enforcement agencies — a rarity in the nation’s capital.
Not only is the GPO’s North Capitol location close to Congressional buildings, but it also houses some Capitol Police evidence. In 2008, police used the garage to store the truck of Michael Gorbey, who was arrested near the Capitol with a loaded shotgun. Only later did they discover a handmade explosive device inside.
When asked whether the the agency has a formal “Memorandum of Understanding— with the Capitol Police, Somerset said the two agencies have a “strong working relationship.—
Subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said after the hearing that the committee would look into Hardwick’s claims.
“My impression for the last few years is that GPO management seems to think of the GPO police as a second-rate police force,— she said, adding that she doesn’t share that view.
Hardwick was one of eight witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing, where legislative branch employees gave their input on the fiscal 2010 appropriations requests. Wasserman Schultz has held the public hearings annually since the House reinstituted the subcommittee in 2007.
Union leaders from the Library of Congress, the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service testified, along with representatives from the American Association of Law Libraries and the American Bar Association.
Most reiterated concerns of the past, such as the growing backlog of claims at the Copyright Office and the need for more funds to help the Law Library of Congress.
Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) was the sole Member to testify, asking the subcommittee to consider resurrecting the Office of Technology Assessment, a popular Congressional research office that Republicans closed in 1995.
Some argue that other sources such as the GAO or the National Academies can produce similar reports. But Holt — along with some other Members — believe OTA played a pivotal role in helping Congress understand the ramifications of scientific policy.
“It was part of Congress. It spoke our language,— Holt said. “It understood our peculiarities — how Members worked and our schedule.—
Subcommittee members asked few questions to most of the witnesses, having heard most of it before. But they seemed irked when a union leader from the CRS testified that the agency still isn’t allowing employees to telecommute, despite the subcommittee’s request that they do so.
To push them into action, Wasserman Schultz said language may be put in the fiscal 2010 appropriations bill.
“This is 2009,— she said. “Other federal agencies seem to be able to come up with a workable policy.—