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Police Merger Delayed by Inaction

Agencies Await Approval From Committees of Jurisdiction

More than seven months after Capitol Police officials submitted a plan outlining a merger with the Library of Congress’ police force, little progress has been made in unifying the two law enforcement agencies.

While Library Police officers confirm they completed initial cross-agency training in December 2003, committee spokesmen acknowledged at least three of the four panels with jurisdiction have yet to officially sanction the merger.

The “merger implementation plan,” mandated by the fiscal 2003 omnibus spending bill and put forth by the Capitol Police in mid-August 2003, must be approved by the House Administration and Senate Rules and Administration panels as well as both chambers’ Appropriations subcommittees on the legislative branch.

“It’s in their hands,” noted Sgt. Contricia Sellers-Ford, a Capitol Police spokeswoman, in response to inquires about the merger status.

According to estimates included in a draft of the merger proposal, once Congress approves the plan the unification process will take about year to complete.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, said the panel has not yet approved the plan.

“They will take a look at it later on in the appropriations season,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Hing.

Across the Capitol, an aide to Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), chairman of his chamber’s legislative branch subcommittee, said the subject will likely be addressed in the fiscal 2005 spending bill.

“The Senate continues to support a full merger for improved security,” said spokeswoman Kate Dando. In its version of the fiscal 2004 legislative branch spending bill, the Senate approved Feb. 20, 2005, as the effective date of the merger; however, that provision did not make it into the final version of the legislation. Capitol Police officials are scheduled to appear before the panel April 1.

House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) said his panel, which has oversight of the Capitol Police, is likely to address the issue in late 2004.

A spokeswoman for the Senate Rules Committee did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

In the meantime, it appears the Capitol Police are moving ahead with plans to detail a handful of officers to the Library.

An LOC spokeswoman confirmed arrangements for the officers are being worked out between the two agencies.

Both the Library and the Capitol Police are permitted under the fiscal 2004 legislative branch spending bill to detail officers to each others’ agencies.

Additionally, the spending bill requires that the 23 vacancies on the Library’s force — in addition to any vacancies created by officers leaving the Library — be filled by officers hired by the Capitol Police and detailed to the LOC agency. Although the Librarian of Congress may recommend officers for those positions, he is not authorized to hire additional staff for the LOC police.

Officer Vernon Gehris, chairman of the Library of Congress Police Labor Committee, asserted his agency remains in need of those additional officers.

“We need manpower. We need these people over here,” Gehris said.

The LOC’s Police Labor Committee, which favors the merger plan, has raised concerns over the pace of the project. “The right thing to do is to get it done,” Gehris said.

Librarian James Billington has questioned the effect of the unification plan on the Librarian’s statutory authority, most recently reiterating those thoughts during a March 11 hearings before the Senate Appropriations panel.

“The current plan proposed by the Capitol Police does not take into account the statutory obligation of the Librarian of Congress to oversee the Library’s collections and buildings,” Billington said in his written testimony. “The Library’s police force is focused not only on the physical safety of our staff, visitors, and buildings, but on the integrity and security of our invaluable collections and is the primary arm for the Librarian of Congress in discharging this responsibility.”

Billington also restated his desire to expand the Capitol Police Board, the law enforcement agency’s governing body, to include Library representation. The board is currently comprised of the House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms and the Architect of the Capitol, as well as the Capitol Police chief, who serves as an ex-officio member.

“At the very least, the Library must have a presence on the Capitol Police Board in order to argue for the level of resources made available to protect the Library’s assets,” Billington wrote. “The Capitol Police officers that serve on Library property must also be under the technical direction of and accountable to the Librarian of Congress.”

Both the Library Police and Capitol Police labor committees, however, object to the expansion of the Police Board.

“The Librarian wants to keep control of the collections, and that can be worked out without giving him a spot on the Police Board,” said Officer Ron Potter, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee.

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