The Professional

Posted March 18, 2003 at 5:10pm

Nobody is complaining about Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) choice of Secret Service veteran Bill Pickle to be the Senate’s 37th Sergeant-at-Arms. Even Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.), who usually has little good to say about anything Republican, hailed Pickle as “eminently qualified.”

If Pickle sustains this bipartisan support, we have a suggestion: If Democrats recapture control of the Senate, they should keep Pickle and change the Sergeant-at-Arms position from being a strictly patronage job to one whose occupant can expect to stay even if party control changes. If Republicans keep the majority, they should move to make the job nonpatronage. House leaders should do the same.

This idea arises from recent experience. Pickle, who takes over today, is the third person to serve as Sergeant-at-Arms in the past year and a half. He replaces Alfonso Lenhardt, who was appointed by Daschle in August 2001, two months after Democrats took control of the Senate. Lenhardt replaced a Republican appointee.

Lenhardt assumed his office on Sept. 4, 2001, just a week before terrorism transformed the crucial importance of the job. Lenhardt and House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood have been forced to put massive security upgrades into place. For Lenhardt, it immediately became a crisis job and he had to learn as he went. Now Pickle has to do it all over again as the nation likely goes to war.

Unlike the House post, the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms job isn’t merely a security post. The Senate SAA has a staff of 826 employees and a $2 million budget and is responsible for Senate telecommunications, printing and other functions that the House divides up between two other offices. Pickle has been dropped into this job with just a week and a half of briefings from Lenhardt. Once upon a time, the Sergeant may have functioned as little more than the chief Doorkeeper. But those days are long over.