Lawmakers are questioning why the Capitol Police department is asking for a 9 percent increase in its fiscal 2017 budget request just three months after securing an additional $27 million — some of which has yet to be spent.
Outgoing Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine appeared before House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees on Tuesday to explain the need for more police officers to help beef up security efforts.
Dine, who called the department “essentially an anti-terrorist organization” said many of the challenges the department faces outside day-to-day operations include threats from international and domestic terrorism but stopped short of saying Capitol Hill faced any credible threats to its security.
“The challenge is we don’t know what we don’t know,” Dine said.
The Capitol Police requested a bump to $409 million in fiscal 2017, up from the $375 million enacted in fiscal 2016, a majority of which would go toward salaries, security and maintenance efforts on the Hill.
There are currently 1,729 sworn police officers on the force that secures a 47-block jurisdiction on Capitol Hill. The 2016 budget provided funding for another 48 officers, and the 2017 request asks for 72 more.
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Legislative Branch, said the request does not fall in line with budget caps that aim to curb spending. He encouraged the department to use existing resources.
“Continued increases at this pace aren’t realistic unless we lift the caps,” Schatz said. “I’m concerned that the fiscal planning may be aspirational rather than realistic.”
Schatz said he was troubled that appropriators did not have enough time to examine the details of the increased spending included in the omnibus bill late last year, before considering its spending plans for the future.
Chairwoman Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., echoed Schatz’s concerns, particularly given the continuing costs for each additional officer.
“Some of this could become unsustainable,” Capito said.
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin said the law enforcement agency takes a multi-layered approach to raising security efforts around Capitol Hill, which includes ensuring that visitors, members and staff are safe.
“Regardless of what we get we will make the best of that,” Larkin said.
Before the House Subcommittee on Legislative Branch, Dine was questioned by ranking member Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and Sam Farr, D-Calif., about why the department should receive increases when other Legislative Branch agencies have had to rein in spending.
Wasserman Schultz said while she sees the value of Capitol Police having access to enhanced equipment, a line must be drawn to make sure essential funding is also available elsewhere.
“There’s the gotta haves and the nice to haves,” Wasserman Schultz said. “I have seen many, many bells and whistles that are available to Capitol Police.
Dine said the budget’s main priorities are to increase security measures in House garages, screening and pre-screening measures at building entrances and “the implementation of enhanced screening portals.”
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