Around 10 on a recent mid-workweek morning, the line of people waiting to enter the Rayburn House Office Building stretched across the stately cement plaza.
School-aged kids waited in front of men and women in suits, who were chatting about appointments on Capitol Hill or gazing at their cellphones. As the long queue neared the sidewalk of Independence Avenue, a Capitol Police officer rode up on his bike and directed pedestrians to try the horseshoe entrance, or entering through the Cannon House Office Building.
“It’ll be way quicker than standing in this line,” the officer advised.
Long lines became a fact of life on the Capitol campus in the wake of sequester-induced cutbacks on the overtime pay to officers manning certain entrance doors and exterior checkpoints. Although a limited amount of funding has been restored, access points continue to be “a very significant source of frustration,” House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Debbie Wasserman Schultz noted during a March 6 panel on funding for the legislative branch.
“Members hear complaints from constituents about the length of lines, to say nothing of how tough it is for our staff to get in the buildings,” she said, in the midst of questioning House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving on the law enforcement office’s $12 million budget request for fiscal 2015.
Wasserman Schultz wanted to know if with fully funding, the office would mean more staff for security checkpoints around the House grounds. “So are you re-evaluating the opening of access points now that you have more resources?” she asked.
“Absolutely we are,” Irving assured her, “and we’re looking at that re-evaluation in the context of other priorities of the police, but certainly re-evaluating all those access points.”
At that point, she cut in to press for specifics: “As in, you have plans to open access points that are now closed?”
Irving, who works in coordination with Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine and Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers on the Capitol Police Board overseeing the forces, said the SAA is keeping an eye on the impact of lines. Among the options being explored is opening “some doors, for some limited hours” during heightened, rush-hour traffic.
When asked to assess the door situation on the Senate side of the complex, Gainer told CQ Roll Call he doesn’t see “any pressures that concern me or that I would consequently share with the chief.”
On busy days, queues sometimes stretch from the door of the Russell Senate Office Building to the Constitution Avenue Northeast sidewalk, a common sight at other Senate checkpoints. Gainer acknowledged he sees the lines when traveling around the campus, but said sometimes — like on Wednesday when both chambers were in session — lines are unavoidable.
“That having [been] said, we’re fully prepared when the visitor season picks up even a bit more to have some of my various staff, as they’ve been doing, go outside and do on-site assessments . . . to see where the bottlenecks may be and try to get people to move to other doors,” he said.
The busy spring break season is also a good time to encourage use of the Capitol Visitor Center, he pointed out.
“When people are calling in to make their appointments, staff is in a good position to give them a heads-up about coming in a particular door at this time,” Gainer said. Offices should tell large groups to take advantage of the CVC doors, he said, then send staff to meet visitors to help them get passes for the galleries or escort those with appointments to their respective offices.
“There’s a collective way to try to calm pedestrian traffic around here,” he said.