Echoing dictates from House appropriators, the Senate Appropriations Committee agreed last week to reduce spending on construction projects across the Capitol grounds in an effort to put tighter focus on the completion of the Capitol Visitor Center.
The full Appropriations panel approved the cuts Thursday in its version of the fiscal 2005 legislative branch spending bill, which includes a total of $2.5 billion in funds for Capitol Hill agencies.
Under the Senate bill, the Architect of the Capitol’s office would receive $308 million, a $32 million cut from its current budget and nearly $171 million less than the agency had requested.
“The recommendation reflects the need to eliminate lower-priority projects or items which can be differed,” asserted Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch. “It also enables the Architect to focus efforts on the completion of the Capitol Visitor Center.”
In its accompanying report, the Appropriations panel also stated that the visitor center should be the Architect’s “highest priority,” asserting that the project should be completed “in a timely way within current funds.”
Construction on the 580,000-square-foot subterranean structure, which carries a $421 million price tag, is currently slated for completion in spring 2006.
The project’s completion date has been pushed back multiple times, in part due to weather delays. When Congressional leaders officially broke ground for the center in 2000, the center was slated for completion by the January 2005 inauguration (although AOC officials have stated that enough work is expected to be completed to host that ceremony).
The Senate also included $7.6 million for maintenance and equipment costs at the visitor center, as well as hiring personnel for the facility. The House did not include funds in its version of the bill, which provided $272 million for the Architect’s office.
Unlike the House bill, the Senate measure also allocated $39 million to the Architect for construction of a Library of Congress storage facility in Fort Meade, Md.
During Thursday’s hearing, Campbell called the $2.5 billion spending bill — which, by tradition, does not include House operations funds, which total about $1 million — “a very tight allocation,” but said it would not lead to staff cuts at any of the legislative branch agencies.
The legislation would provide $227 million to the Capitol Police, a $7 million increase over the current fiscal year but significantly less than the $292 million the department had requested.
That amount includes funds for the construction of prefabricated stables and support sheds for the Capitol Police’s mounted horse unit. The facilities would be located in D.C. Village, a complex made up of various government agencies located south of Anacostia near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
The fledgling police unit, created in fiscal 2004 with strong support from Campbell, could spark debate during a likely House-Senate conference, however, because House lawmakers agreed to eliminate funding for the division in their version of the bill.
In contrast, the Senate panel praised the horse-mounted division in its report language, noting it “expects the new unit will be a great asset in helping the Capitol Police become a world-class law enforcement agency.”
Senate lawmakers also agreed to insert two administrative provisions into the bill at the behest of Capitol Police officials.
One provision will allow officers to travel overseas with Congressional delegations to serve as security advisers and liaisons.
The provision clarifies an earlier law governing Capitol Police employment, according to Officer Michael Lauer, a Capitol Police spokesman.
“This bill basically ensures unequivocally that the officers are acting within the scope of employment” when traveling outside the United States, Lauer said. “We’re basically acting as liaisons for security both in the State Department and to other police.”
The second provision would allow the law enforcement agency to restrict the release of any information it deems sensitive to the “policing, protection, physical security, counterterrorism, emergency response, and preparedness of the Congress and the Capitol buildings and grounds” to other government agencies or individuals.
Lauer said the provision is intended to block security information produced by Capitol Police from being provided to executive branch agencies, which could be compelled to release that information to the general public under the Freedom of Information Act.
No specific incident sparked the change, Lauer said, adding that the provision is “based on precaution.”