Lines wrap around the corner Tuesday at the Northeast entrance of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
When Congressional law enforcement officials began to roll out their plans to meet the budget constraints of sequestration, they pledged not to compromise security.
They never promised, however, that their plans wouldn’t compromise convenience, and on Wednesday afternoon, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer told the Capitol community not to expect much relief anytime soon.
Last week, the Capitol Police Board announced it would, beginning March 11, close nearly a dozen entrances around the Capitol complex to allow the Capitol Police to cut back on overtime payment to officers needed to man the doors.
“[It] may increase wait times,” the Police Board, comprised of Senate and House Sergeants-at-Arms Gainer and Paul Irving and Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers, wrote in a March 6 memo to lawmakers and staff. “We regret any inconvenience.”
It was easy to imagine just what a nightmare it might be in the mornings, especially, when staffers arrive for work at the same time that tourists begin showing up to visit with their members of Congress and lobbyists start to filter in for meetings, markups and hearings.
By Wednesday, just three days after the closures went into effect, the impact was undeniable, with lines to get into the buildings stretching around the block in many cases, even in Tuesday’s pouring rain.
There must have been enough complaints that Gainer, by Wednesday afternoon, felt compelled to send yet another note to the Senate community to reiterate the nuances of the situation — and concede that things may not get better anytime soon.
“Many of you have contacted me about the long lines and trouble getting into our Senate buildings over the past three days,” wrote Gainer, also the Police Board chairman, in a letter obtained by CQ Roll Call. “I regret the inconvenience and continue to explore ways to mitigate the delays. However, given the budget constraints all of us are experiencing, I do not expect substantial relief.”
Gainer explained that the decision to close, or operate on a modified schedule, certain doors to the six main office buildings and the Capitol itself was not made arbitrarily.
“The United States Capitol Police . . . continues to explore ways to relieve congestion and limit the wait time,” Gainer wrote. “However, the police staffing impact and concomitant costs are significant. Remember, if we are able to relieve the pressure in the morning by opening additional doors it requires police officer overtime, and the costs must be recovered from some USCP service. Figuring out where to relieve the pressure is the hard part. Something has to give.”
But there are ways that staffers can help make things run a bit more smoothly, Gainer continued, such as reminding their visitors about the new restrictions and asking them to plan their arrival times accordingly.
Senate offices can also, he said, notify the Sergeant-at-Arms or the Capitol Police about “early mornings, large gatherings, committee hearings, and social functions” that might result in significant traffic jams at certain office building entrypoints.
“Much like our shared experience at airports after [the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks], more time is needed to get into the buildings,” Gainer said. “The sociologist in me hopes visitors and staff, armed with current information, will adjust patterns and past practices.”