Police Merger A Step Closer

LOC Force to Be Absorbed

Posted July 13, 2005 at 6:40pm

Lawmakers are working to finalize a proposal to unify the Library of Congress’ law enforcement agency with the Capitol Police Department, nearly two years after mandating the merger.

Under the agreement, the Capitol Police would absorb the LOC agency, taking over responsibility for securing the agency’s buildings and grounds, while the LOC would maintain responsibility for the security of its collection of more than 126 million items, including the use of private security guards in its reading rooms.

“The expanded United States Capitol Police would be responsible for the life safety, the building safety and the investigation of crimes,” said House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio).

The arrangement is similar to a plan authored by Capitol Police officials and submitted to Congressional overseers nearly two years ago, after House and Senate appropriators mandated the merger in the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill.

Both plans call for the Capitol Police to absorb the LOC’s police agency and subsequently create a fourth division of its Uniformed Services Bureau, which now includes House, Senate and Capitol divisions.

The new proposal also would require the Government Accountability Office to determine the “appropriate force level” needed to secure the Library buildings, Ney said.

In addition to establishing the number of sworn officers that would be required, Ney said the study also would examine whether some duties now assigned to Library police could be carried out by private security contractors.

While the Capitol Police is made up of more than 1,600 sworn officers plus additional civilian personnel, the Library’s police force has only about 100 officers, dwindling to about two-thirds of its authorized level following a hiring freeze implemented by Congress in the fiscal 2004 legislative branch appropriations bill.

The Library’s law enforcement agency is currently supplemented by nearly two dozen Capitol Police officers, and day-to-day control of the agency is under the direction of a Capitol Police inspector assigned to the LOC under an agreement implemented in November 2004.

Capitol Police spokesman Michael Lauer said the department remains supportive of the unification proposal, but he declined to comment on its specifics, noting that the process is ongoing.

“The department is eager to move forward with the merger process,” Lauer said.

A Library spokeswoman similarly declined to discuss the matter Wednesday, stating, “We have communicated to the appropriate committees our support for and concerns about effecting the police merger and we await Congress’s decision.”

Librarian of Congress James Billington has previously expressed concerns over maintaining his post’s statutory authority to oversee the LOC’s collections and buildings, as well as a desire to expand the Capitol Police Board to include a representative of his agency.

Under the new proposal, however, the Capitol Police Board, the law enforcement agency’s governing body, would not be affected.

The board is made up of 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.

House Administration officials opted against such an arrangement, Ney said, after examining the duties of the police board, which sets security policies throughout the Capitol complex.

“I have the highest respect for Dr. Billington … but let’s look at the position here,” Ney said. “There are a lot of other decisions made by the police board that have nothing to do with the Library.”

Although Billington had also sought to retain financial control of police officers assigned to the Library, Congressional lawmakers likewise denied that request, granting fiscal control of those officers to the Capitol Police.

Under the proposal, LOC police officers would not be automatically transferred to the Capitol Police, but they would be required to meet the same “physical and mental standards” applied to that law enforcement agency’s employees, Ney said.

LOC Police Labor Committee Chairman Mark Timberlake declined to comment on specific details of the merger plan, but he said officers remain supportive of the merger overall.

“We’re very hopeful that this merger will be completed soon, especially in light of world events and the need for [unified] security on the Hill, which at this time is wanting,” Timberlake said. “We feel the plan will create a more secure Library and Capitol Hill complex, providing a safer place for staff, visitors and constituents.”

The House Administration panel will hold a public hearing to discuss the proposal following the August recess, although a timeline has yet to be prepared for the potential implementation of the merger.

In the meantime, the proposal is similarly under consideration by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the panel’s chairman, was unavailable for comment because he was traveling in Mississippi to attend today’s funeral for his mother.

While it is not clear whether any additional legislation would be required to complete the merger, it is likely that Appropriations panels in both chambers could need to approve additional funds for the process.

According to a report issued by the then-General Accounting Office in June 2002, a merger between the Library and Capitol Police forces could cost $15.2 million to $25.9 million.

Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), who chairs his chamber’s Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, said he plans to issue a letter to Billington, encouraging him to be supportive of the merger.

“The Congress has spoken,” Allard said. “We all agree that merging needs to happen.”