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House Conferees Aim to Hold the Line on Spending for CVC, Capitol Police

With the conference committee on the fiscal 2004 legislative branch spending bill meeting as early as today, House appropriators are vowing to maintain tight fiscal controls on both the Capitol Visitor Center and the Capitol Police.

“We want to be reasonable on both counts,” said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch. But he added that his panel believes both the law-enforcement agency and the Architect of the Capitol, which oversees the CVC project, should be able to operate within the budgets agreed to by the House.

In its version of the bill, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee included about $2.5 billion compared to the House’s $2.7 billion. By tradition, each chamber’s bill excludes the costs of the other’s expenses.

Among the differences is the Senate’s allocation of $240 million for the Capitol Police, compared to the House limit of $212 million. Likewise, the Senate would give the Architect’s office nearly $48 million for the visitor center, while the House has not included any new funds.

Though one Republican aide said the Senate is “prepared to go either way” on funding for its support agencies, that chamber has typically shown more support for completing the visitor center as planned. House Members, including subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), have suggested trimming major features, such as the auditorium, to reduce the project’s cost.

A Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations said Senators will “definitely be pushing back on” funding for the visitor center.

In its report accompanying the bill, the House panel states it “has serious reservations about providing additional funding under the control of the Architect given the track record of the Architect’s organization and inability to manage.”

A General Accounting Office study released in June found that the CVC could need as much as $47.8 million in additional funds on top of the $373.5 million already budgeted, due to unanticipated costs.

The two chambers have similar differences on the Capitol Police, with the Senate budgeting for 202 additional full-time equivalent officers, while the House would put a freeze on any new hires until the agency completes a strategic plan, which is due next month.

The Senate conferees will consider agreeing to the House language, the Democratic aide said, adding: “The bottom line is, we need to make sure the final number that emerges is a number [Capitol Police Chief] Terry Gainer is comfortable with.”

Mirroring concerns in the House, the report accompanying the Senate bill states that: “While the Committee supports USCP’s efforts to enhance security for the Capitol complex by increasing the force size, the Committee is concerned there is not a strategic plan to guide this endeavor.”

House Appropriations subcommittee Members have repeatedly expressed concern with the continued growth of the Capitol Police force, which is seeking to expand from its current size of about 1,400 sworn officers to 1,833 in fiscal 2005.

“We think we should rein this in until we get a strategic plan for the police,” Moran said. The House report language notes the law-enforcement agency has grown by 512 slots, or 37 percent, since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Although the Senate version includes the $2 billion fiscal 2003 emergency supplemental spending bill, Kingston said conferees will not have to address that difference, because a separate conference will be held.

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