Fence Plan Gets Negative Reaction in House

Posted April 2, 2004 at 6:02pm

Echoing concerns raised by their Senate counterparts, House lawmakers in key oversight positions questioned last week a renewed proposal from the Capitol Police to construct a security fence around the Capitol grounds.

Members of the both the House Administration and Appropriations panels expressed reservations about whether a perimeter fence — encompassing the Capitol and House and Senate office buildings — would further impede on Congress’ ability to maintain a publicly accessible Capitol.

“There are a number of Members here that are concerned about security and equal amount concerned about keeping the seat of democracy open to the public,” said Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), ranking member of the House Administration Committee.

Discussions about an extensive security fence were publicly revived Wednesday, when Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer raised the subject at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch.

Neither the panel’s chairman, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), nor ranking member Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) appeared to support the proposal. Durbin questioned the need for a fence in light of the extensive network of steel bollards ringing the Capitol campus.

Suggestions for a massive perimeter fence were first proposed in a 1985 security plan, and most recently resurfaced in a February 2003 General Accounting Office report on Capitol Police staffing levels.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) ranking member on his chamber’s Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, stated simply of the proposal: “It’s not gonna happen.”

“I don’t think this is a flag that’s going to be up for long,” he said, and later quipped: “Chief Gainer has been spending too much time with [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon.”

Although Gainer meets periodically with House lawmakers, a Capitol Police spokesman said Friday the chief does not have plans to specifically discuss the perimeter fence with Members in coming weeks.

House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) has yet to comment publicly on the fence proposal. “At this point, there has been little study of an issue that quite frankly has a number of logistical issues involved, so the chairman has not taken a position,” said Brian Walsh, Ney’s spokesman.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who chairs the legislative branch subcommittee, said the fence proposal surprised his fellow House Members.

“It kind of looks like we’re making up security as we go along,” said Kingston, a frequent critic of the law enforcement agency.

“What we would really like is to utilize our current assets more efficiently,” Kingston continued. “I’d love to see the Capitol more opened up, not less opened up.”

Noting that the fence is being proposed not only as a security measure but also as a way to reduce the number of officers required to patrol the Capitol grounds, Kingston went on to suggest that Congress should consider privatizing portions of the police force.

“We need to look at ways to have more security with the best dollar for the taxpayer,” Kingston said.

It is not clear how much support exists for such a proposal, but Moran said he does not back privatization.