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Police HQ Gets $64M Infusion

The emergency supplemental spending measure passed unanimously by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday included $125 million for the legislative branch, more than half of which is slated to build a new headquarters for the Capitol Police.

The total was trimmed from an initial request for nearly $180 million and matches exactly the amount in President Bush’s request for the legislative branch section of the $74.6 billion supplemental.

“I tried to make sure everything that was in there was more urgent in nature,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch. “These were all urgent needs. There were areas in there that were requested that were trimmed out because I didn’t think it was necessary.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its version of the bill Tuesday but details were not made available at press time.

The $63.9 million for the Architect of the Capitol to purchase, design and begin construction of a headquarters for the Capitol Police recommended by the House Appropriations Committee is in addition to the $37.8 million the agency would receive for general expenses.

“We’ve been trying to do this for some time. It’s really a basic homeland security need,” House Appropriations spokesman John Scofield said of the facility.

Efforts to create a new Capitol Police headquarters and command center were put on hold in December 2001 after Senate negotiators prevailed in deleting language pertaining to the facility from a $20 billion supplemental measure attached to a Defense appropriations conference report. The House version of that supplemental included language authorizing the Architect of the Capitol to locate and acquire space for such a facility.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), then the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, expressed concerns about the cost of the building. (At the time, one feasible site was identified, the old Washington Star building at 225 Virginia Ave. SE, which estimates said could cost upward of $130 million to purchase and renovate.)

Police officials have said for years that they are cramped to capacity in their current headquarters — which is adjacent to the parking lot for the Hart and Dirksen Senate office buildings — leaving little room for the hundreds of new officers hired in the past year and a half as the force has sought to significantly expand its ranks.

“It’s an urgent need to put funding in the supplemental to consolidate the Capitol Police into one command,” Scofield said, explaining the the force’s offices are currently in “pockets” all over the complex.

The other big-ticket item in the bill would give $11 million to the new Homeland Security Committee for salaries and other items, which Kingston said was necessary to get the committee “up and running.” The panel received $700,000 in seed money earlier this year.

The House is set to take up the committee funding resolution this month, and without using funds from the supplemental, funding for the Homeland committee would force the other panels to take cuts, as all of the committees draw out of one pool appropriated in the legislative branch bill. (Even though the measure was wrapped in this year’s omnibus — which came after the Homeland Security Committee was created — the original allotment for panel funding wasn’t changed to reflect the new addition.)

[IMGCAP(1)] Also in the supplemental is $5.5 million for the Library of Congress to implement a public address system in order for the agency’s buildings to receive emergency communications.

The Congressional Research Service would also receive $1.9 million to plan, design and build an alternate computer facility.

Additionally, the committee recommended $4.9 million for the General Accounting Office to enhance security at its facility.

Even though it’s by far the smallest portion of the legislative branch section of the bill, the $111,000 the Office of Compliance is set to receive is significant for at least two reasons.

The first is that the office, created by the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act to enforce 11 federal workplace and safety laws applied to the legislative branch for the first time, has had a “significantly” larger number of hearings this year than in year’s past, meaning the little-known and oft-misunderstood office is being utilized more.

“The Office has a significantly larger number of hearings than in any comparable period in its eight-year history, and since we are mandated to conduct hearings within the stringent timelines by the Congressional Accountability Act itself, the timing of the expense is not discretionary,” Executive Director Bill Thompson said in a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels, who vetted the request.

A legislative branch employee with a complaint first undergoes counseling and mediation through the office. If the issue is still unresolved, the employee can either take the case to U.S. District Court or to binding arbitration, which must commence no later than 60 days after filing the complaint. Decisions rendered in the latter process can be appealed to a board of directors, comprised of labor lawyers holding unrenewable five-year terms.

Professional hearing officers and mediators are hired by the office on a contract basis, and as of Feb. 20, $112,000 of the $187,100 in the office’s fiscal 2003 budget for that purpose was obligated.

In its request for a supplemental appropriation, the office said it would curtail spending on supplies, equipment, travel and personal services for a net savings of $20,000 to partially offset the additional funding needed for hearing officers. It also marks a significant reversal in Congress’ approach to funding the Office of Compliance.

The granting of the full amount the office requested comes after the House legislative branch subcommittee last July criticized in acerbic language the executive director for alleged “management deficiency” for underexecuting the office’s budget.

The language was part of the report accompanying the fiscal 2003 legislation, and the committee’s markup froze the office’s funding at 2002 levels.

The office had an appropriation of $2,059,000 in fiscal 2002 and had requested $2,224,000 for fiscal 2003. The Senate Appropriations Committee wanted to fund the office at the $2.2 million it requested, but the House won out in conference, and the office’s funding actually went down slightly, to $2,045,000 this year.

At the time, the Office of Compliance said it took pride in carrying out its functions without spending a dime more than was necessary, explaining that the disparity in the amount the office uses from year to year is attributed to its small budget and volatile workload.

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