Capitol Police Renew Call for New HQ

Posted April 7, 2008 at 6:38pm

As Architect of the Capitol officials work on a long-term master plan for the Congressional complex, one of the options being weighed is a new headquarters for the Capitol Police.

Chief Phillip Morse told Members last week that the growing force — which now stands at approximately 1,700 sworn officers and 400 civilian employees — is in need of additional space that not only will give the department more room, but also bring most of its functions together.

Capitol Police headquarters sits at 119 D St. NE, but to accommodate everyone, the force also must lease space in the Fairchild Building, which is located on South Capitol Street near the Rayburn House Office Building.

“A new building would offer the opportunity to consolidate most operations into a single structure, improving overall efficiency and minimizing lease costs,” Morse testified at a Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on the future of the Capitol complex last week.

Morse is not the first chief to bring up the need for a new headquarters. Capitol Police and Congressional officials spent much of the first half of the decade discussing whether to move the force to a new building, with Members ultimately deciding against that idea.

And while the issue is being revisited, don’t look for Members to fund a new headquarters anytime soon — even if it happens, it will come in the long term.

The development of the Capitol Complex Master Plan is an ongoing effort addressing multiple stakeholders, according to officials who help oversee the Congressional campus.

That plan must balance a range of needs affecting Congressional and administrative offices, Members, staff, visitors, the Capitol Police and other legislative branch agencies, said Howard Gantman, a spokesman for the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which oversees the department.

“There are a variety of options on the table that are still under review,” Gantman said.

The department apparently has not yet asked for any funding to conduct a new search, either.

A spokesman for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, said that while committee staffers are aware that “there have been discussions of the need for a new headquarters for several years now,” no request has been submitted to the committee since the Congresswoman took the helm in January 2007.

And Morse isn’t expected to actively push for a new building, as the department is facing more immediate concerns.

Since taking over as chief last year, Morse has listed improving the management of the department’s finances as his main priority. In February, Morse brought on Government Accountability Office veteran Gloria Jarmon to serve as chief administrative officer to help with that effort.

As for infrastructure requirements, Morse has told Members that acquiring a new radio system is his top goal. The current system, which is about 25 years old, is not interoperable, meaning the Capitol Police cannot use it to talk to nearby police jurisdictions.

Still, Morse told the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management that acquiring a new headquarters must remain a long-term priority, one he called “critical to police operations” that should be considered when “prioritizing limited resources for future construction.”

In fact, some of the work already is complete, given Capitol Police officials’s earlier efforts.

By 2004, officials seemed settled on a few locations, even developing a plan to purchase the former Washington Star building at 225 Virginia Ave. SE, where renovations were estimated to cost more than $130 million. Officials also looked at a privately owned lot at I Street and New Jersey Avenue Southeast.

But citing financial concerns, Members who oversaw the department at the time moved to have the department lease space in the Fairchild Building instead.

The department continues to keep tabs on the status of those past recommendations, Morse said, while also working closely with Architect of the Capitol officials to find additional space on Congressional grounds.

But while acquiring a new headquarters might be years away, waiting any longer to find a location could create difficulties, one Member warned last week.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) told Morse that if the department is serious about finding a new headquarters, it needs to act fast. Even with the downturn in the real estate market, property on Capitol Hill — and even spots on nearby North Capitol Street — are being snatched up by ambitious developers.

“Let me just say, the options are fleeting quickly,” Norton said. “We are building on every blade of grass in the District of Columbia.”