Police Fiasco

Posted June 24, 2008 at 4:14pm

What is going on with the Capitol Police? The Government Accountability Office has questioned its fiscal management. Officers earlier this year didn’t notice an improvised bomb in a pickup truck. House appropriators have held up funds for its new radio system.

And now, a quarter of its new recruits have been told to resign or be fired because — it turns out, after they were hired and started training — they could not pass background checks. The fiasco means that at least $6 million in salaries and training costs has been wasted.

The reaction from Members of Congress has been strangely mild. Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Administration Subcommittee on Capitol Security, said he’d been “apprised of the situation” but couldn’t comment because this was a personnel matter. Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), ranking member on the subcommittee, said he was “concerned” that such “screw-ups” not happen again.

The official in charge of police personnel, former Human Resources Director Jennifer McCarthy, has been removed from her job, but the committees overseeing the police need to inquire further into how this happened. It’s not just a “personnel matter.” It’s a serious “management matter.”

One major question is: Did McCarthy hire the 15 officers without conducting sufficient background investigations and psychological examinations to begin with — or were they hired with officials knowing about (and ignoring) information that would disqualify these candidates?

To the extent that police officials have been willing to comment, statements have been directed — legitimately — at the hardship inflicted on the 15 recruits, some of whom “made a life-changing decision,” such as relocating their families to Washington, D.C., to join the force, as Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer put it.

The recruits, in the midst of training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia, were abruptly called back to Washington and told to resign by Friday or be fired. Their future employment prospects may be damaged. “It’s pitiable that we found ourselves in this situation,” Gainer said.

Indeed, but other damage and implications are more serious yet. “Who else has slipped through?” was a legitimate question raised by Matt Tighe, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee. Moreover, removal of the recruits means that the department will have fewer officers on duty during one of its busiest periods.

This is peak visitor season. Some Capitol Police officers are assigned to the national political conventions in Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

And the Capitol Visitor Center is nearing completion, requiring even more personnel. Gainer said the shortfall will be made up with overtime assignments. And that means more cost.

Capuano’s subcommittee, and also the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees on the legislative branch, need to conduct a thorough inquiry into this latest failure.

It certainly justifies the comment from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who blocked the radio money, that the police “have a horrendous track record” of administrative and fiscal failings.