GAO Approves Police Use Of Emergency Funds in ’04

Posted February 8, 2005 at 6:21pm

The Capitol Police Department did not violate federal law when it tapped nearly $10 million in emergency funds to pay overtime expenses to officers stationed at traffic checkpoints across Congressional grounds last fall, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO’s comptroller general issued a decision Tuesday at the request of Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who chaired the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch in the 108th Congress. Kingston had questioned whether the use of the funds constituted a violation of the Antideficiency Act, which governs the use of appropriated dollars.

In response to the report, House Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield said, “We’re pleased that GAO looked into it and it closes the matter.”

Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer praised the report in a brief statement.

“The report speaks for itself. Capitol Police will continue to work with the committees to ensure good communication,” Gainer said.

The inquiry focused on money the Capitol Police used from the Emergency Response Fund to pay overtime costs incurred by the traffic checkpoint program officials established in August 2004. The fund is a $40 billion account created by Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for counter-terrorism and national security measures.

Under the vehicle checkpoint program, prompted by a Homeland Security Department decision to raise the federal terror alert level for financial institutions in Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey, officers manned 14 stations across Capitol Hill in 12-hour shifts, resulting in overtime costs of about $1.3 million to $1.5 million per two-week pay period. (Capitol Police officials abandoned the program after just three months in November 2004, in favor of intermittent checkpoints.)

To cover those unanticipated costs, Capitol Police made two withdrawals, $4.2 million in September and $5.4 million in November, from its portion of the Emergency Response Fund, which totaled $34.5 million.

Although the checkpoint program was not created in response to a declared emergency, the GAO decision states that the Capitol Police properly used the emergency funds under guidelines issued by Congress.

“The availability of the ERF is not dependant [sic] on the declaration of an emergency,” the report states. “The Act outlines five specific purposes, including providing counterterrorism measures and supporting national security. The Security Traffic Checkpoint Program was a counterterrorism measure and was undertaken in support of national security.”

Additionally, the decision notes that Capitol Police action appears in line with Congressional intent.

“The Capitol Police’s use of the appropriation for overtime also appears consistent with congressional leaders’ expectations for the use of the Fund,” the report states, citing concerns voiced by House and Senate leadership in October 2001 regarding the need to enhance security measures on Congressional grounds.