Fear of Angering Members Affects Police Performance

Posted May 7, 2008 at 6:27pm

A Capitol Police union official said Wednesday that officers sometimes suffer intimidation from Members that makes them fear reprisal for doing their job — a comment that seemed to shock the Members listening to his testimony.

“If they come to a common sense that good efforts are punished by the powers that be because they feel inconvenienced, then more damage is done to our security than you can imagine,” said Matt Tighe, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee.

Tighe’s comments, which were part of his opening statement at a hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, sparked vocal concern and surprise from Members.

“When complaints come from certain Members and staffers, they feel that they will get disciplined,” Tighe said later in response to a question by subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

“If there is someone who feels intimidated, then I would like to know on an individual basis,” ranking member Tom Latham (R-Iowa) said, “because that is just out of bounds.”

Tighe was one of 10 witnesses at a hearing meant to give employees and outside groups a chance to comment on legislative branch agencies and projects.

Many used the time to bring up issues discussed in past years, including a call for more money for the Law Library of Congress and better retirement for Capitol officers.

For much of the two-hour hearing, Members simply listened and declined to ask questions.

But Tighe’s testimony sparked increased interest.

Wasserman Schultz said she trusts that Chief Phillip Morse would never punish police officers just because a Member or staffer complained.

Still, Wasserman Schultz said she would check whether anyone within the department has punished Capitol Police officers in such cases. Dealing with sometimes inconvenient security procedures is just part of life in the Capitol, she said.

“Look, there are times when my hair is different. There are times when I’m not wearing my pin,” she said after the hearing. Not being recognized leads Members to seem inconsiderate, she said, but it shouldn’t mean punishment for officers.

Other issues brought up at the hearing received less of a response from the committee.

At one point, an LOC union official asserted that the Copyright Office should temporarily drop a $50 million Web-based system to return to a decades-old paper process. The new system, he said, has created an insurmountable backlog of copyright requests and is ill-suited to the public’s needs.

“The Guild regrets that this implementation is not going well,” said Kent Dunlap, the chief negotiator for the LOC Professional Guild. “It is unfortunately clear that the current electronic system cannot be fixed quickly in order to process all 11,000 claims received weekly on a timely basis.”

The processing time for one paper application has jumped from six months to eight months. But Copyright officials say that will change as more and more people begin to submit their requests online.

Members didn’t ask any questions after Dunlap’s testimony, but Wasserman Schultz expressed some skepticism after the hearing.

“I don’t think the solution is to go back to paper,” she said.

Other issues discussed at the hearing included calls for Congress to give more money to a project that will provide digital book players for the blind; a union’s complaint over restricted telecommuting at the Congressional Research Service; and an update on the improving relationship between the new union at the Government Accountability Office and the agency management.

The oft-debated issue of transportation to the new Capitol Visitor Center was also discussed, with an official from the National Tour Association objecting to a plan for buses to park at Union Station and load their passengers onto public transportation for the rest of the ride.

At several previous hearings, both Wasserman Schultz and Latham have expressed their distaste for the plan because of the inconvenience to constituents. Members are more receptive to an idea that would have buses drop passengers off at the Capitol’s West Front — as they do now — and park at the station.

On Wednesday, former Rep. Jim Santini (D-Nev.), who serves as the tour group’s legislative counsel, told the committee that tour bus companies would be willing to work cooperatively to come up with a solution. One possibility, he said, would be for buses to unload luggage before bringing tourists to the Capitol — perhaps eliminating concern over hidden explosives.

Furthermore, he said buses could be screened in advance and bus officials could register passengers in advance.

“We all have an interest in making this work better than the proposed solution,” he said.