Senate Appropriations Panel Keeps Budget at 2010 Level

Posted September 16, 2010 at 3:57pm

In an effort to tighten its own belt and set an example for other branches of government, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a fiscal 2011 legislative branch appropriations bill that reflects no increase over last year’s budget.

The $3.1 billion bill, excluding House appropriations, allots Congress and its support agencies the same total as last year and $435.6 million less than what was originally requested for fiscal 2011.

“It should be understood that the cost of operating our legislative branch, including the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office and the Library of Congress, will continue to rise,” Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said. “Some programs will have to be constrained.”

While most agencies’ budgets will not change, the only withholding in appropriations is an $8.5 million subtraction from the Architect of the Capitol’s funds to shore up Capitol Police budget miscalculations and to add money to the Congressional Budget Office’s finances.

As first reported in March, the Capitol Police discovered a $7 million salary miscalculation in its budget because they neglected to account for issues such as attrition and weekend hours.

Consequently, the Senate bill would increase the department’s budget by $7 million over last year’s total to $335 million.

“If we don’t take care of our buildings and stay current in our technology and be vigilant in our safety and security, no one else will do it for us,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.

The bill gives the CBO $46.6 million, a $1.4 million increase from last year, in order to support “current onboard staffing levels,” committee documents show.

But the cuts to the AOC, which is allotted $442.6 million, would mean delays to maintenance projects. One of these projects singled out by Nelson in the committee hearing was the replacement of roofs and skylights in Senate office buildings.

The decrease comes as the AOC grapples with 6,300 safety hazards, 25 percent of which are rated as “high risk” to employees and visitors, according to the Office of Compliance’s recent annual report.

“Crafting this bill was not an easy task, and there were some very difficult choices to make,” Nelson said. “We will no doubt be feeling some pain next year in our personal offices, in committees and in support agencies.”

Eva Malecki, spokeswoman for the AOC, declined to comment on pending legislation.

Under the bill, the Senate, including the offices of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, the Secretary of the Senate and other support agencies, would be budgeted $926 million.

This includes a $4.2 million transfer from the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms to the Secretary of the Senate.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, who attended the markup, said that while he would love to be able to increase his budget, he agreed with the assertion that Congress must set an example in troubled economic times.

The other agencies that did not see an increase are the Government Accountability Office, with $556 million; the Library of Congress, with $643 million; the Government Printing Office, with $147 million; the Office of Compliance, with $4.4 million; and the Open World Leadership Center, with $12 million.

The bill must now be voted on by the full Senate and then reconciled with its $3.7 billion House counterpart, which was approved by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch on July 1.

Senate Appropriations Committee staff said it is unlikely that this will happen before Congress adjourns for recess in October.