Aug. 21, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Members Weigh Costs of Security

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Assistant Leader James Clyburn said Tuesday that he thinks Members should get individualized security assessments based on their districts.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) has said he will push for more security funding from his seat on the Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said he will reintroduce legislation to enclose the House visitors galleries with Plexiglas or a similar material.

But other Members have refrained from calls to up security spending.

Rep. Jack Kingston, who has proposed cutting security details for “lower-level leadership” Members, said there is no reason to increase office budgets.

“Within a Member’s existing budget, if they want to shift things around, they can,” the Georgia Republican said. “If you want to hire a former police officer, you can do that. If you want to put cameras in your office, you can do that.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx said she’s not ruling out added protective measures for Members, but she’s not changing anything herself for the time being. She warned that talk of security cameras and protective details might be a knee-jerk reaction.

“If it could be shown that it can prevent something like what happened on Saturday then certainly we should do it, but I’m just not sure we can plan for every contingency and I don’t want us to overreact,” the North Carolina Republican said. “There’s nothing you can do to stop people who are unhinged or mentally unbalanced.”

As former chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee on the Legislative Branch, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is familiar with office budgets and also said she wants to make sure Congress doesn’t go too far.

“It may be that we can take steps that don’t really cost us anything,” the Florida Democrat said. “But look, you can’t really put a price on safety. I think we have to have the appropriate amount of security and safety” for Members, constituents and staff.

Left out of the discussion so far is whether to increase the Capitol Police budget. 

The department’s budget has ballooned by about 400 percent since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the Capitol was a direct target.

But in a sense the force’s budget is still stretched thin, and the 1,800-officer department does not have the resources to protect every Member all the time. 

The department’s fiscal 2011 expenses budget was cut by $5 million in the appropriations bill passed at the end of last term. Part of that was to provide for an increase in its salary budget — not to hire more officers but instead to backfill a multimillion-dollar shortfall that could have caused furloughs.

Although members of leadership always have security details, other Members can contact the Sergeants-at-Arms or the Capitol Police if they want extra protection. 

But the requests can be denied, said a Capitol Police source who is not authorized to speak with the media.

Members are assigned dignitary protection only if the threat assessment section finds there are credible threats against the Member.

“The only people who get protection are leadership and people who have specific, creditable threats directed toward them,” the source said.

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