Omnibus Features Raises, Many Changes for Capitol Police

Posted February 14, 2003 at 5:54pm

Changes for the Capitol Police are afoot as part of the $397.4 billion omnibus appropriations bill which passed both chambers Thursday. Language in the bill directs the force to merge with the Library of Congress Police, provides retroactive salary increases to officers and gives expanded authority to the chief.

The measure also provides enough funds for a 4.1 percent salary increase for Congressional employees, although it’s up to individual offices to determine raises for staffers. In addition, there’s money for a tuition reimbursement program for House staffers. (The Senate received money for such a program last year.)

The legislative branch portion of the omnibus has a price tag of $3.4 billion, which includes $668 million for Senate operations and $960 million for the House. Legislative branch funding for fiscal 2002 was virtually the same, at $3.3 billion.

Language in the bill perhaps most dramatically affects the Capitol Police, but the force’s funding accounts only for $219 million of the $3.4 billion going to Congress and its support agencies. But, as expected, it’s a significant increase from the $157 million appropriated for the force in fiscal 2002. The figure is a compromise number, as the House prescribed $256 million and the Senate $210 million for the force in the versions of the bills that passed each chamber last year.

In addition to salary increases retroactive to October 2002, the conferees instructed the Capitol Police Board to report to the oversight committees a proposed new pay structure, its budgetary impact and an implementation plan within 120 days of the bill’s enactment.

The jump in salaries for officers is crucial for a department trying to keep the force fully staffed. Funding for salaries increased by almost $60 million, which includes an authorized 5 percent merit-based pay raise and 4.1 percent legislative-branch-wide cost-of-living adjustment.

The bills’ administrative provisions include significant new authority for the Capitol Police chief. Chief Terrance Gainer was given more discretion to offer bonuses to help fill positions and retain officers, recruit officers without respect to the previous age requirements, establish a student-loan-repayment program and provide training and more pay for specialty assignments.

The chief also will become an ex-officio member of the Capitol Police Board and was given authority to appoint an executive assistant of the board. In addition, the bill directs the Police Board — which consists of the House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms and the Architect of the Capitol — to re-examine and redefine its mission.

The language is important because of the broad authority the Police Board holds over the force. It directs the board to “conduct an assessment of the effectiveness and usefulness of its statutory functions in contributing to the Capitol Police Board’s ability to carry out its mission and meet its goals, including an explanation of the reasons for any determination that the statutory functions are appropriate and advisable in terms of its purpose, mission, and long-term goals.”

How that reorganization is carried out could have broad implication for how the Capitol Police is run for years to come.

One item that is not in the bill that was in the version that emerged from the House Appropriations Committees is a provision that would make the police chief the disbursement officer for the Capitol Police. The appropriators were attempting to consolidate the bifurcated payroll system — whereby half of the officers are on the House payroll and half are on the Senate’s — by giving authority over a centralized system to the chief.

But House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) vehemently objected to the provision and took out the language on the floor when the House voted on its version of the bill last summer, calling it a mistake to take disbursal authority out of Members’ control. The provision was agreed to as a technical amendment to the Senate’s bill, however, and thus was on the table during conference.

What the conferees ultimately did was centralize the Capitol Police’s payroll system while allowing the House Administration and the Senate Rules and Administration panels to retain final sign-off privileges.

Perhaps the most visible change for the force will be the merger with the Library of Congress Police, a longtime priority of Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah). The provision originated in the Senate’s version of the bill.

The idea of merging the two forces — along with the Government Printing Office police force — has been on the table for several years, and last summer the General Accounting Office completed a feasibility study of merging the Capitol Police with either or both agencies.

The Capitol Police currently patrol the area around the Library as part of its primary jurisdiction, and the two forces are similar in pay scale and share like missions in protecting Members of Congress and their staffs, national treasures and tourists. A merger with the GPO seemed less compatible, according to the GAO report, as GPO is out of the Capitol Police’s primary jurisdiction and shares less in common with the Capitol Police in terms of mission, and GPO officers are paid less, on average.

In another provision, the conferees directed the establishment of a legislative branch-wide chief administrative officers council that will meet regularly to discuss mail, security, personnel and information technology practices. The group is designed to facilitate consistency in systems development and eliminate duplicate efforts.

Modeled after the legislative branch financial managers council, the group is to consist of CAOs or a comparable senior employee from each legislative branch entity. The General Accounting Office is to facilitate the council’s creation and directed to report to the House and Senate Appropriations committees during the fiscal 2005 budget hearings.