Politics

Security Boost in House Legislative Branch Bill Approved

More funding for Capitol Police and sergeant-at-arms, among others

Capitol Police would get a boost from the Legislative Branch spending bill being considered in the House. (Tom Williams/Roll Call File Photo)

House appropriators have approved a fiscal 2018 Legislative Branch spending bill that would boost security both at the Capitol and in members’ districts.

The House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee at a brief meeting on Friday approved by voice vote the $3.58 billion fiscal 2018 Legislative Branch measure. No amendments were offered.

The bill would provide $100 million more than the fiscal 2017 enacted level to fund operations in the House, Capitol Police, Library of Congress, Government Accountability Office and other legislative branch agencies.

“We are taking a new, fresh look at security,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder, the panel’s chairman.

The Kansas Republican and House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper, R-Miss., collaborated on a plan for the House Administration Committee to increase the Members’ Representational Allowances accounts by $25,000 per member for official event security in lawmakers’ districts for the rest of fiscal 2017, which ends Sept. 30. The allocations won’t require additional appropriations.

The same level of per-office security funding could be added to MRA accounts for fiscal 2018, Yoder said.

“There are enough resources [for] $25,000 next year, if the House Administration Committee so chooses,” he said.

The bill would also provide $5 million for the House sergeant-at-arms to enhance district office security, such as by cameras, panic buttons and other security infrastructure.

The bill would boost Capitol Police funding by $29.2 million to $422.5 million for fiscal 2018. “We owe it to the Capitol Police to make sure that they have the necessary resources they need to meet the mission in this increasingly polarized climate,” Yoder said.

Security funding is a perennial discussion in the Legislative Branch bill, but concerns were magnified by the attack earlier this month on House Republicans at a baseball practice in Arlington, Virginia, in which a gunman wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, two Capitol Police officers and two others. The assailant was killed by the security team assigned to Scalise, who has a Capitol Police detail through his leadership position.

“The tragic events of June 14 weigh heavily on these deliberations and are reflected in this proposal,” House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen said.

A full committee markup of the bill is expected as soon as this week. The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to act on its version.

Limits on security spending

Members currently can only hire personal security using their official accounts on a case-by-case basis, with approval from the House sergeant-at-arms. The additional MRA funding for security would not need to be cleared through the SAA’s office, Yoder said.

“There are some members in particular who have had very specific threats made upon them and their family and are understandably increasingly fearful,” Yoder said. “We want to give them the resources to protect themselves if they feel necessary.”

He added that the additional MRA funds are for personal security at events in a limited fashion, noting that “$25,000 isn’t going to get them very far.”

Subcommittee ranking member Tim Ryan supports the increases for Capitol Police and sergeant-at-arms funding, but said members need more information about the full range of options for enhancing security for offices and homes, including information about the cost.

“The scariest part for us is, there used to be this impression by the public that we all had security everywhere we went. Now everyone knows that isn’t the case,” the Ohio Democrat said.

An ongoing issue that is not directly addressed in the measure is security at members’ residences. Currently, campaign funds can only be used under strict guidelines and with permission from the Federal Election Commission to pay for security at residences.

According to Yoder, the FEC is considering a blanket allowance for campaign funds to be used to secure member residences.

Christian Hilland, an FEC spokesman, said the commission has allowed use of campaign funds to pay for security enhancements made in response to threats to an officeholder’s safety. “The security upgrades were not considered personal use of campaign funds because the threats would not exist irrespective of the officeholders’ candidacy or duties as an officeholder,” he said.

Hilland noted that the FEC has not adopted a blanket policy in connection with using campaign funds for security expenses, however.

Funding proposed for other Legislative Branch agencies:

  • House Operations: The bill contains $1.194 billion to fund the operations of the House — an increase of $5 million from fiscal 2017 enacted levels.
  • Architect of the Capitol: The AOC would see a $48.4 million boost over the enacted level to $577.8 million. This includes $62 million for the continuation of the restoration and renovation of the Cannon House Office Building, and $31 million for the continuation of the Rayburn House Office Building garage rehabilitation project.
  • Library of Congress: The LOC would see an increase of $16 million from fiscal 2017 levels, to $648 million. Language is included in the measure that would allow public access to all nonconfidential Congressional Research Service reports, a change that government transparency organizations have been pushing.
  • Government Accountability Office: The GAO, which functions as the government’s watchdog agency, would be funded at $568 million, $450,000 above the fiscal 2017 enacted level.

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