A day after reports surfaced about a rash of thefts at House offices over the past month, lawmakers weighed in and offered suggestions on how to address the problem.
Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, mentioned the incident in his opening remarks at the markup of the fiscal 2013 spending bill to fund the operations of Congress.
“Let me assure you, in talking to the Sergeant-at-Arms, the Capitol Police, members who have been affected ... they are doing everything they can,” Crenshaw said this morning of Capitol law enforcement, which is funded by the legislative branch bill. “The Sergeant-at-Arms assures me they are doing everything they can to get to the bottom of this.”
He said the Architect of the Capitol, Capitol Police and Sergeant-at-Arms are working together to come up with recommendations to streamline security on the Capitol campus.
At the same time, Crenshaw said, “we all have to remember that as tragic as this is, it’s a wake-up call that we’ve got to be diligent, aware of our surroundings and do what we can in our offices to protect what we can.”
Since April 10, an unknown number of House Members — among them Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) — have had their offices ransacked during off-hours. Spokesmen for the three reported that items stolen include computer monitors, cameras and personal keepsakes.
Capitol law enforcement opted to launch a face-to-face outreach program rather than make a public announcement about the thefts, alerting individual offices about the incidents and offering tips on how to keep their valuables safe. On Thursday, House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving told Roll Call that 168 House offices had been visited to date.
Irving said his staff decided not to release a report several weeks ago in part because it wanted to be sensitive to the need to let people know about the thefts without causing undue panic.
Crenshaw said he supported that approach.
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the full Appropriations Committee and a former prosecutor, wants to see quick action.
“We need to get this resolved right way because it’s more involved than missing money or whatever,” said Rogers, suggesting that confidential material and classified files are also at risk in Member offices. “This should be resolved not in a matter of days but a matter of hours.”
Rogers also echoed what Gowdy had suggested in a letter he sent earlier this month to the House Administration Committee: that these break-ins appear to be perpetrated by someone from within.
“There’s been no evidence of a physical break-in, which suggests that [someone] had access to those offices,” Rogers said. “That should narrow the investigation quite considerably.”
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, said the incidents present an opportunity for the Capitol Police to consider ways to increase surveillance in the Capitol complex without infringing on people’s privacy.
In the Legislative Branch spending bill approved by the subcommittee today, the Capitol Police would receive an increase of $20 million from current levels.
Honda suggested that is not enough money to invest in new technology.
“This isn’t something that’s in the budget, but it’s something that we could budget for,” Honda told Roll Call after the markup.