Billington Angles for Post-Merger Role on Board

Posted August 29, 2003 at 3:34pm

Librarian of Congress James Billington is once again seeking to expand the Capitol Police Board just as Congress begins consideration of a plan to merge its own law enforcement agency with the Library’s police force.

Capitol Police officials submitted a plan Aug. 19 outlining the merger’s implementation, mandated by Congress in the 2003 omnibus spending bill, to the four committees dealing with oversight and appropriations for the agency.

Under the implementation plan, a final draft of which was obtained by Roll Call, the Library’s police force will essentially become the fourth division of the Capitol Police Uniformed Services Bureau, which now comprises House, Senate and Capitol divisions.

Billington urged both House and Senate appropriators to grant him fiscal and technical control of the Library division at hearings this spring, and those views were reiterated in the Library’s formal response to the plan.

“A separate budget is needed to ensure that the Library has adequate resources to implement the level of security deemed appropriate by the Librarian to carry out his responsibilities in managing the Library’s staff, facilities, and collections,” the response states.

As an additional measure, Billington requested in an Aug. 6 letter to Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer that the Capitol Police Board, the department’s governing body, be expanded to include Library representation. The letter is included in the final version of the implementation plan.

“[T]o ensure that the Library has input into Capitol complex security and emergency preparedness decisions, I reiterate my position that the Library have a voting representative on the Capitol Police Board,” Billington wrote. The board now includes the House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms and the Architect of the Capitol, as well as the Capitol Police chief, who serves as an ex-officio member.

While the merger proposal calls for redesignating Library of Congress buildings as Capitol buildings and grounds, it would preserve the Librarian’s authority over the institution and its more than 126 million items.

“The Librarian can maintain his regulatory authority within the Library of Congress buildings by including legislation that grants him regulatory authority within Library buildings,” the final version states. “However, the U.S. Capitol Police must be given primary and full authority to police within the Library of Congress buildings and grounds, and to enforce regulations promulgated by the Librarian.”

Additionally, the Library and Capitol Police will enter into a memorandum of agreement regarding the Libary’s civilian investigators. The investigators, who are deputy U.S. marshals, will be required to notify Capitol Police any time they investigate incidents of theft or mutilation of Library materials, as well as other acts of criminal conduct.

Through a spokeswoman, Billington declined to comment further on the merger proposal.

The merger proposal does not reference expansion of the Police Board, and one Republican aide suggested little has changed since Billington’s earlier push to expand the board. “This has been brought up before, and it hasn’t been enthusiastically endorsed,” the aide said.

The Police Board is conducting an internal review of its own mission, the Republican aide added, but that document will not be completed until October.

Labor committees for both the Capitol Police and Library officers generally approved of the proposed merger plan, but also questioned the need to expand the Police Board.

“We would not be supportive of that. The U.S. Capitol Police Labor Committee would definitely speak out against the Librarian being a part of the Police Board,” said Mike DeCarlo, chairman of the committee. “We just don’t need anybody else on the Police Board. … You’re just muddying up the process even more.”

Similarly, Vern Gehris, chairman of the Library of Congress Police Labor Committee, supported transferring control of the Library’s force entirely to the Capitol Police.

“Scholars aren’t police chiefs or managers, they’re good at being scholars,” Gehris said, referring to the current structure, which places the Librarian ultimately in charge of the Library’s police agency. “You need real police management running the police department.”

Officers from both agencies assert that the merger would benefit younger officers on the Library’s force by offering them a wider range of career options, such as training for one of the Capitol Police’s specialized units, like K-9 and hazardous materials.

“They’ll be able to have a meaningful law enforcement career instead of being stuck with the mundane duties they have at the Library,” Gehris said.

The merger would also affect older Library officers, 19 of whom would be forced into immediate retirement because of the Capitol Police Department’s mandatory retirement policy for officers older than 57. The Library’s force does not have any age limitations for officers.

Additionally, a group of a half-dozen or so officers, including Gehris, would have to move into civilian posts before they are scheduled to retire because they are older than 57 but have not served the 20 years required to qualify for retirement benefits under the Capitol Police Retirement Act.

“All the officers that transfer to the Capitol, whether they get to retire as police officers [or not], have a better retirement system than they have now,” Gehris said.

The number of officers forced affected by the retirement plan may fluctuate, depending on when the merger is finalized.

The LOC Labor Committee does plan to lobby Members to create an exception to allow some of its officers to work past the Capitol Police’s mandatory retirement age, to 62.

“We have some people who are in an area where they sort of get short-changed. They reach 57 with three or four years or five years to go,” Gehris said.

The merger plan — which would cost nearly $25 million, including training, equipment upgrades and retirement costs — would combine the Library’s 131 positions with the significantly larger Capitol Police force of more than 1,400 sworn officers and 227 civilian staffers.

A General Accounting Office report issued in June 2002 estimated a merger between the Library and Capitol Police forces could cost between $15.2 million and $25.9 million.