With the reality of the sequester taking effect growing more and more likely, it’s the rare government agency that isn’t looking for ways to skim off the top of its operating expenses in anticipation of looming budget cuts.
The Capitol Police force is no exception.
Last week, following the announcement that Capitol Police Inspector General Carl Hoecker will leave the agency to assume the same post at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer told CQ Roll Call that management will not take formal steps to install a permanent replacement.
Gainer, who is also chairman of the Capitol Police Board, said Assistant to the Inspector General Fay Ropella will be taking over for Hoecker in an acting capacity. Ordinarily, an outside search firm would be hired to put together a pool of candidates from which the police board would choose a replacement. But given Ropella’s qualifications, Gainer said there is no urgency to jump-start that process.
He also said it is difficult to justify additional hiring in that office when the government’s financial future is so uncertain.
“We’ll have to wait and see how the budget process unfolds,” Gainer said. “It’s a bit of an unknown for everybody.”
Hoecker, hired in 2006, is the only person to have served as Capitol Police inspector general, a position that’s just over half a decade old. In 2005, appropriators took issue with the slow pace at which the Capitol Police force’s management was addressing administrative issues, such as payroll and compensation glitches, as well as a general lack of oversight over various projects and procurements.
The solution, they decided, was to force the Capitol Police to establish a permanent Office of the Inspector General. The mandate was included as a provision in the 2005 Legislative Branch appropriations bill.
Tasked with identifying waste, fraud and abuse within the agency, Hoecker went on to help put controls in place to streamline administrative operations. He also oversaw audits that found deficient diversity initiatives and holes in the policies that protect the security and personal information of officers, lawmakers and staff.
“We ought to be very careful not to let the agency be anywhere near what it was,” said Gainer, who was Capitol Police chief at the time of Hoecker’s appointment and throughout Congress’ criticisms of how the department was being run.
Gainer said that during his tenure, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the ricin and anthrax mailings targeting members of Congress, he was significantly increasing the size and the scope of the agency to better protect the Capitol complex. In that process, he said, he let some things fall by the wayside.
“We were expanding the capabilities of the force faster than the administrative side could keep up,” he conceded. “I wasn’t able to do both at the same time.”
Hoecker was able to “plug up those holes,” Gainer said, and before his departure he put systems in place to allow Ropella and her team to build off of the IG’s good work. But with one less full-time employee on board now, will the office’s integrity suffer and the police force return to the pre-IG status quo?
Gainer doesn’t think so. Ropella will be responsible for communicating manpower deficiencies as they arise, he said, and in the meantime the Capitol Police board is discussing whether the IG’s office could borrow some resources from the chief of police’s team to conduct audit and investigations.
Officer Shennell Antrobus, a Capitol Police spokesman, said the department is already working with the police board and Congress on a plan that would address the broader effects of the sequester.
“The plan is carefully designed to accommodate the reduced funding levels; with the goal of ensuring that the safety and security of the Capitol complex will be maintained,” Antrobus said in an email.
Not everyone is terribly concerned over the future of the inspector general position, however: Capitol Police Labor Committee President Jim Konczos said he doesn’t recall much of a difference between before and after an IG was installed within the agency, and he said the current system appears to favor senior managers over the rank and file.
“From the union’s perspective, and the officers’, a lot of these complaints that go to the IG’s office, it’s kind of like a black hole,” Konczos said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.