Capitol Support Agencies Look to Meet Demands in Lean Times
Lawmakers in both chambers have used the legislative branch budget in recent years as an opportunity to prove Congress’s willingness to lead by example in their campaign to curb government spending.
The fiscal 2014 budget to fund the operations of Congress, especially in the era of sequestration, will be no different. But it didn’t stop congressional support offices and agencies from submitting budget requests that go above and beyond what they might reasonably expect.
The disconnect between their recognition of budget constraints and the funding levels they are requesting sheds light on the challenges they already face in meeting their mandates with sparse resources.
If previous fiscal years are any indication, it also suggests a certain degree of strategizing: If they ask for more money, after negotiations, they might end up with just the amount of money they need to stay afloat.
The Architect of the Capitol has requested $681.7 million, which it needs to combat fast-deteriorating structures around the Capitol campus that, if left to further worsen with age, would cost more money later on. It was provided $496.4 million in fiscal 2012.
The Capitol Police wants $363 million to keep members, staffers and visitors safe on Capitol grounds. Current staffing levels are making the task of meeting certain mandates tenuous, new Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine said at a House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearing Wednesday. In fiscal 2012, the agency was allocated $340 million.
And the Congressional Budget Office wants a modest $2 million increase from fiscal 2012 for a total of $45.7 million. It will allow the office to continue scoring legislation in a timely fashion, especially as requests grow more frequent as it becomes more of an imperative for members to prove their legislative proposals wouldn’t have substantial costs.
Even support offices of the House and Senate made cases for more money than they had been allotted in previous years. The Senate Sergeant at Arms, which at the end of the month will lose around 80 employees through a buyout program instituted earlier this year to cut costs, has asked for $145 million — nearly $15 million more than it received in fiscal 2012. The House’s request to fund the salaries for its various officers and employees amounts to $184 million — about $12 million above the fiscal 2012 allotment.
Unlike the other 11 annual appropriations bills considered by Congress each year, the legislative branch spending bill is made up of requests by the entities, operations and employees it covers.
Included as part of President Barack Obama’s overall budget package, individual submissions are typically seen for the first time each February. The White House delayed its unveiling this year, however, because of the uncertainties surrounding the sequester.
To this end, the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee opted to move forward with a series of hearings prior to budget day to begin discussions about what agencies under its jurisdiction wanted and how they were meeting budgetary constraints.
This means that, for close watchers of this appropriations bill, proposals for the budgets of the Capitol Police, Architect of the Capitol, the Congressional Budget Office, the Library of Congress, the Government Printing Office and the Government Accountability Office should not be surprises.