Panel to Freeze Police Hires in Lieu of Strategic Plan

Posted June 20, 2003 at 5:51pm

In its version of the fiscal 2004 appropriations bill, a House subcommittee would freeze funds for new Capitol Police officers until the law-enforcement agency completes a strategic plan.

The action taken by the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch did not come as a surprise. Chairman Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) have openly questioned the size of the department in recent months.

“Their budget request was somewhat aggressive,” Kingston said. The law-enforcement agency is seeking $275.5 million in fiscal 2004, the House bill would fund the agency at $212 million.

“We have to pause and say there’s been a lot of growth, a lot of big steps and it is now time to explore what we’ve done,” Kingston said.

The appropriations bill will require an external agency review of the police force to determine the appropriate number of officers it needs.

The department now has about 1,400 sworn officers and 227 civilian staff members, and plans to grow to 1,569 sworn officers by this fall and 1,833 officers in the following fiscal year.

The agency is also seeking funds to increase its civilian staff to 573 within the same time frame.

Capitol Police officials are working with the General Accounting Office to complete a strategic plan, mandated by the fiscal 2003 omnibus spending bill, which will address staffing needs, as well as training, prevention and response methods.

“If an increase in work force is needed, the funding will be there,” Moran said.

Part of the increase sought by the Capitol Police is in response to the Capitol Visitor Center, which will require 135 new officers.

Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer has defended the department’s growth. Through a spokeswoman, he said he is working to convince Congress that “while we strive to reach our full potential, a few more officers, more training opportunities, modernized equipment and less forced overtime will further enhance Capitol Hill security.”

“We intended to maintain our status as a premiere agency and continue our relationship with Congress,” he added.

Subcommittee members also addressed concerns over the cost of the CVC, which Kingston has previously said is likely to cost about $45 million more than originally estimated. That figure is based in part on a forthcoming GAO audit.

Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), ranking member of the full Appropriations Committee, made the suggestion that the plug should be pulled on the project.

“My preference would be to fill in the hole and forget it,” Obey said of the 580,000-square-foot project being constructed beneath the East Front. The visitor center has an existing budget of $373.5 million.

Acknowledging that Obey’s wish is an unlikely scenario, the subcommittee instead included language which does not fund any new construction projects by the Architect of the Capitol.

“This language … will tell the Architect [Alan Hantman] not to move ahead until we have a chance to review the GAO report and have a hearing with him,” Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) said. The committee plans to meet with Hantman in mid-July.

The subcommittee’s version of the bill also includes language directing the Architect’s office to begin planning a fitness facility for Congressional staffers.

LaHood said the Architect would be required to select a footprint for the site on the Capitol grounds by July 2004.

Obey also raised concerns over salary limitations for House staffers.

“I think we’ve been extremely derelict in providing staff salaries necessary for us to be competitive with the United State Senate,” Obey said. “I don’t think this House can afford to be advised by a kiddie corps.”