GPO Officers Seek to Join Capitol Police

Posted February 24, 2010 at 6:37pm

Police officers at the Government Printing Office told Members on Wednesday that they want to be part of the Capitol Police, less than a year after the department absorbed the Library of Congress’ force.

Their willingness came as news to the members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, who listened to the testimony of almost a dozen legislative branch employees Wednesday. Library officers had been so opposed to merging with the Capitol Police that the process took years; GPO officers, on the other hand, are jumping at the chance to work for a larger force.

Alvin Hardwick, the former chairman of the GPO’s police union, said the difference was retirement and pay. While Library officers liked their retirement system (and didn’t want to risk losing it in the merger), GPO officers have no such perks, he said. Plus, the Library officers — many of whom once worked for local police forces — were eager to continue working as officers well past the Capitol Police’s mandatory retirement age of 57.

“Those guys want to work forever,” Hardwick said in an interview after the hearing. “We don’t.”

The GPO police force has only 26 officers; the Library had closer to 100. But while Library officers were mostly content with the agency’s management and with their benefits, GPO officers complain of being understaffed and overworked. GPO officials now hire contract security guards to fill in the gaps — a situation that Hardwick has lambasted for years.

But a 2002 report from the Government Accountability Office estimated that a merger would cost $13 million to $16 million. The merger would also be difficult, according to the report, because of the difference in missions between the GPO and the Capitol Police. Still, the two agencies are already somewhat intertwined, thanks to the fact that the Capitol Police sometimes stores evidence and hazardous materials vehicles in the GPO’s North Capitol Street building.

It’s still unclear whether Congress will take action — Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who heads the legislative branch subpanel, said she wasn’t yet sure whether the merger would work. But the House Administration Committee plans to explore the issue further. Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) said earlier this year that the Library merger created a “road map for a possible merger of the GPO Police into the Capitol Police.” Ranking member Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) is also “open to exploring the feasibility of the merger,” spokeswoman Salley Wood said.

“If Congress has an interest in pursuing a merger, GPO is certainly open to discussion,” GPO spokesman Gary Somerset said. “However, no discussions have been initiated at this time.”

The GPO merger was only one of dozens of topics covered at Wednesday’s hearing. Held in the Appropriation Committee’s tiny — yet ornate — Capitol hearing room, the three-hour session drew employees from the Library, the GAO, the Capitol Police and the Congressional Research Service. Many of the topics were repeats from similar hearings in past years: The Capitol Police again asked for improvements to their retirement plan, for example, and Library union leaders reminded Members that the Copyright Office is still struggling with its new electronic claims system.

As he has for the past few years, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) asked the subcommittee to re-establish the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, which researched technological and scientific issues for Congress until Members closed it in 1995. But this year, Democratic and Republican members of the subpanel seemed open to the idea. Money continues to be an issue — 15 years ago, the office had a budget of $20 million.

“It’s just a question of competing values and tough choices,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said.

Wasserman Schultz seemed most troubled by the continuing problem of teleworking at the CRS. For more than a year, the subcommittee has urged officials to allow telecommuting, but union president Dennis Roth said they still haven’t enacted a fair system.

“CRS doesn’t appear to be taking the directive seriously,” she said after the hearing, adding that she still needs to hear the agency’s side of the story. “I’m frustrated because we were very specific about what they needed to make happen.”