House spending bill boosts Capitol Police, office budgets

Bill would also increase intern pay, allow DACA participants to work on Capitol Hill

The U.S. Capitol Police flag flies in front of the police department's headquarters on Sept. 23, 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The U.S. Capitol Police flag flies in front of the police department's headquarters on Sept. 23, 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 23, 2021 at 2:37pm

House Democratic appropriators on Wednesday released the text of a $4.8 billion fiscal 2022 Legislative Branch appropriations bill, which includes key boosts for offices and agencies stretched thin in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic and Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The measure, which does not include Senate-only spending, would provide 13.8 percent more than the $4.2 billion in discretionary funds appropriated in fiscal 2021.

The Capitol Police would get $603.9 million, an $88.4 million boost over the previous year. Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman in April requested $619.2 million, over $100 million above the previous year’s budget of $515.5 million. The House draft bill comes in $15.3 million short of what Pittman asked for.

The Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee will hold a markup of the measure at noon Thursday. The committee said its report includes measures to help bring more transparency to the force, which is notoriously nebulous.

That panel’s chairman, Tim Ryan, alluded to that proposed change in his statement.

“I am pleased that this legislation increases transparency, diversity and leadership training for the United States Capitol Police,” the Ohio Democrat said.

That funding would allow the department to hire up to 2,112 sworn police officers and 450 civilian employees. The department is currently hemorrhaging officers. The Capitol Police union said more than 70 officers have left since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and it expects to lose hundreds more in the coming years to retirements and attrition.

The department has approximately 1,843 sworn officers. Earlier this year, retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré led a review of Capitol security in which he found the department had 233 officer vacancies and that officers worked almost 720,000 overtime hours in fiscal 2020. Honoré recommended adding 854 positions.

The force has been upended in the aftermath of the insurrection and is enduring arguably the most trying time in its almost 200-year existence. Top leaders have resigned or been forced out. The force’s fundamental ability to protect Congress has been called into question. Communication failures, a lack of preparation and intelligence misses on the part of department leaders, including by Pittman, all exposed deep deficiencies in the Capitol Police.

There is also the matter of a $1.9 billion security supplemental funding bill that barely passed the House, 213-212, without a single Republican vote. Earlier this week, Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy warned that the Capitol Police will run out of funding in August if the security measure is not approved by then. The department faced a serious equipment shortage that the supplemental bill would work to ameliorate.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, the top Republican on the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, said there are components of the draft bill that are “good and should be helpful moving forward,” but added she has some concerns and planned to speak with Ryan later Wednesday.

The Washington Republican added that there “are some bigger picture problems,” noting the separate security supplemental, and what she says are needed changes to the Capitol Police Board and department leadership.

Over 80 Capitol Police officers were injured as a result of the Capitol assault. Officers have been overworked, and morale is the lowest one veteran officer has seen in more than a decade of service. Three officers have died since Jan. 6.

The department is on track to change in several areas. The Capitol Police Board is in the process of selecting a new chief, and lawmakers are calling for significant structural changes to the board. The department’s inspector general, Michael A. Bolton, has proposed a swarm of recommendations that includes organizational shifts in the intelligence section and mandating training on powerful weapons that officers carry.

MRAs

The House spending proposal would provide a $134 million boost for Members Representational Allowance, bringing funding for basic office budgets for lawmakers to $774.4 million.

Lawmakers and outside advocates have raised concerns in recent years that overworked and underpaid staff lead to high turnover rates and force lawmakers to lean on lobbyists and outside groups for deep expertise on policy issues.

Each House lawmaker gets a Members Representational Allowance, from which they pay for staff salaries, travel to Washington and within their districts, rent for district offices, office equipment and other expenses. Members have a high degree of flexibility on how to allot their MRA funds.

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., and Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., wrote to Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Ryan in April advocating for the boost to the MRA.

The increase proposed in the text released Wednesday exceeds the Hoyer and Jeffries target of a 20 percent boost for MRAs and committee budgets.

“I am proud that this legislation includes a $134 million increase for Members to hire and retain the staff needed to serve our constituents,” Ryan said in a release.

While staffers could see pay increases under the bill, depending on what their bosses use the funds for, members themselves would not. The bill includes the longstanding freeze on lawmaker pay, barring cost-of-living adjustments.

Interns and DACA

The bill would also increase funding to pay interns in the House by $4 million, to $15.4 million.

Congress first began allocating funding for internships in fiscal 2019, with the aim of leveling the playing field for students who can’t rely on generational wealth to pay for rent, meals and life in Washington.

But a recent study from Pay Our Interns found that the students receiving paid internships were still overwhelmingly white and disproportionately more likely to attend private universities. Just half went to public schools, compared with 75 percent of all U.S. undergraduates.

The bill would also fund a new pool of money to pay 106 interns in House committees with $2.3 million.

“I am also pleased that we are helping ensure our workforce reflects the diversity of our nation, including by increasing funding for paid internships and allowing DACA recipients to work in the halls of Congress,” Ryan said in a statement.

Current law bars most non-U.S. citizens from working for the federal government. The measure includes language permitting legislative branch agencies to employ so-called Dreamers who already hold employment authorization under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The bill would override existing prohibitions on the use of government funds to employ people who are not U.S. citizens.

“A strong and well-functioning Legislative Branch is essential to our democracy, and this bill makes important investments to strengthen Congress as an institution,” DeLauro said in a statement. “With work authorization for Dreamers and more funding for Congressional offices and paid internships, we will be able to recruit and retain a talented and diverse workforce to help Congress deliver for the people.”

The bill also includes language directing the Architect of the Capitol to remove statues or busts in the Capitol that “represent figures who participated in the Confederate Army or government, as well as the statues of white supremacists Charles Aycock, John C. Calhoun, and James Paul Clarke and the bust of Roger B. Taney.”

Other agencies under the auspices of the bill include:

  • The Architect of the Capitol, which would get $738.3 million, a large boost of $152.8 million over fiscal 2021. This includes $93 million for the Cannon House Office Building renovation project, which has gone significantly over budget. J. Brett Blanton, the only member of the Capitol Police Board still with a job since the Jan. 6 insurrection, is being investigated by his agency's inspector general for alleged misuse of a government vehicle. The agency has also been cited as being unprepared for hostile activities that includes active shooters and riots.
  • The Congressional Budget Office, which would receive $60.9 million, an increase of $3.7 million over fiscal 2021.
  • The Government Publishing Office, which would get $125.6 million, a jump of $8.6 million over the current fiscal year's funding.
  • The Government Accountability Office, which would receive $729.3 million, a rise of $68.1 million over fiscal 2021.
  • The Library of Congress, which would receive $794.4 million, a boost of $37 million over the current fiscal year.
  • The Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, which would get $8 million, up $500,000 from the current fiscal year.