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LOC Police Face Staffing Crunch

While the Capitol Police Department tightened security procedures across the Congressional campus last week — deploying dozens of officers to more than a dozen new vehicle checkpoints — law enforcement officials at the Library of Congress struggled with more basic needs as a staffing shortage threatens to limit the agency’s capabilities.

“We’re doing the best we can to boost security, but … we are extremely understaffed,” said Officer Mark Timberlake, chairman of the LOC Police Labor Committee.

Operating under an 11-month moratorium prohibiting the hiring of new officers, the force has dwindled to about 100 officers, only two-thirds of the number it is authorized to employ.

In addition to prompting most Library officers to work at least one overtime shift each week, Timberlake said the vacancies result in closing building entrances and creating longer security lines at those that remain open.

“We have door shutdowns probably three times a week from being short staffed,” Timberlake said, later adding: “I think the whole manpower shortage is affecting everybody at the Library, not just the police.”

Although provisions included in the fiscal 2004 legislative branch appropriations bill allow the Capitol Police to detail nearly two dozen officers to the Library’s police force, while also prohibiting the Library from hiring new officers, that assistance has not materialized while lawmakers continue to review a “Memorandum of Understanding” that would govern the arrangement.

In a July 15 letter to House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), Librarian of Congress James Billington urged lawmakers to approve the memorandum: “I do not see any realistic alternative solution other than a short-term detail of U.S. Capitol Police officers … for filling this devastating gap in our manpower.”

But that plan, considered the first stage of a merger between the two law enforcement agencies mandated by the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill, appears to be delayed indefinitely in the face of opposition from the House Administration Committee, which shares oversight of the Capitol Police.

“The Memorandum of Understanding that’s out there is not acceptable to the committee because it would essentially be moving forward with this merger, and the chairman does not support that,” said Ney spokesman Brian Walsh.

In mid-July Ney said his panel would need additional time to review the merger plans, stating that House authorizers were not able to conduct adequate review when the provision was inserted in the appropriations bill.

“The chairman fully recognizes that the Library of Congress has been put into a difficult position as a result of this appropriations language. It’s unfortunate that they are living with the consequences of it,” Walsh said.

In the meantime, Walsh added, the Ohio lawmaker is willing to support a temporary arrangement, but he said it should not be considered an initial stage of the merger.

“We are willing to affect some type of security assistance arrangement between the Library of Congress and the Capitol Police that can be put in place until the Library of Congress can hire and train new officers,” Walsh said.

Before adjourning for the August recess, House lawmakers approved legislation, sponsored by Ney and House Administration ranking member John Larson (D-Conn.), that would allow the Library to hire new officers.

Similar legislation has not been introduced in the Senate, however.

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