Gainer: Act on Merger or Abandon Plan

Posted April 27, 2005 at 6:30pm

Exasperated with the long-pending merger of his agency and the Library of Congress’ law enforcement arm, Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer called on Congressional lawmakers Wednesday to abandon the project if no immediate action is planned.

Gainer aired his frustrations during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, at which he presented the department’s $290 million fiscal 2006 budget request.

In response to questions from ranking member Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) about the status of the merger — which would combine the Library’s 100-member force with the 1,600-officer Capitol Police — Gainer noted that Congress has yet to act on a plan put forth by his department in August 2003.

“I would respectfully request Congress take action on the very, very detailed merger plan that we submitted two years ago or kill this thing,” Gainer said, referring to an August 2003 document the agency submitted to the House and Senate committees that oversee the department.

Although House and Senate appropriators mandated the merger in the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill, the process has faced delays as lawmakers sought more time to review the overall proposal.

In response to Gainer’s urging, appropriators agreed to examine the state of the merger. “I promise you I will look at that,” Durbin said.

Similarly, House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) said Wednesday it is possible the merger process could wrap up within the next year.

“We haven’t given up on it yet,” Ney said when informed of Gainer’s statement. “I still think there’s some life to it.”

In the meantime, Gainer asserted that regardless of whether the merger goes forward, both departments have benefited from increased coordination in recent years.

In November, the agencies entered into a formal agreement that gave Capitol Police control over the day-to-day operations of the Library’s police department, while allowing the Librarian of Congress to maintain ultimate control over his force, including budgetary authority.

The agreement, which is set to expire in December, also provides a detail of nearly two-dozen Capitol Police officers to the Library to offset an officer shortage created when Congress mandated a hiring moratorium in the fiscal 2004 legislative branch appropriations bill.

“Even if we walked away from it … we are both better agencies for it,” Gainer said, noting communication has improved between the two. “There’s some good that’s come out of it.”

During the hearing, Gainer also discussed his agency’s fiscal 2006 request, which would increase the department’s budget by 26 percent, or $59.7 million over current funding levels.

The increase would also allow the department to hire 122 additional officers, bringing the department — which one Capitol Police Board official cited as among the largest in the nation — to more than 1,700 officers.

More than half of those officers would be used to staff the Capitol Visitor Center, which is currently under construction on the East Front and slated to open as early as fall 2006. Gainer noted that once open, the center will require about 140 officers to monitor the facility.

The new officers would also be used to fill gaps in the dignitary protection division, as well as to staff the portion of First Street Northeast that officials closed to traffic in August 2004.

“There are a lot of posts now that we would prefer to cover under best practices that we are not covering,” Gainer said of the proposed increase. In addition to the fiscal 2006 proposal, the department had sought another 132 officers in its fiscal 2005 supplemental spending request.

Senate appropriators also reviewed the $220 million budget sought by the Senate Sergeant-of-Arms for fiscal 2006.

The proposal includes a $42 million increase, about 24 percent more than current funding.

A significant portion of that request would be used to replace the Senate’s telephone system, which Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle said has become outdated since its installation nearly 20 years ago.

“The system is technically able to go on for many years,” Pickle acknowledged, but he added that the current telephone structure will not support technological advances including Voice over Internet Protocol, a system that translates analog audio signals for digital use.