Library of Congress employees are seeking the support of House appropriators in an attempt to spur the long-delayed merger of the Capitol Police with their own law enforcement agency.
In a March 29 letter to Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), the four unions that represent LOC employees (including the Fraternal Order of Police) assert that any “security weakness” at the Library could constitute a threat to the entire Capitol Hill complex.
“We’re concerned that this should not be the weak link on the Hill,” explained Congressional Research Employees Association President Dennis Roth. “We should have maximum security just like any other Capitol Hill building.”
Although House and Senate appropriators mandated the merger — which would combine the Library’s 100-member force with the 1,600-officer Capitol Police — in the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill, the process has faced delays as lawmakers sought more time to review the overall proposal.
Under an agreement reached in November 2004, however, Library officials did agree to hand over day-to-day control of their law enforcement division to the Capitol Police while the Librarian of Congress maintains ultimate control over the agency, including budgetary authority.
That arrangement also provides a detail of nearly two-dozen Capitol Police officers to the Library to offset an officer shortage created when Congress mandated a hiring moratorium in the fiscal 2004 legislative branch appropriations bill.
The moratorium left the agency with about two-thirds of the number of officers it is authorized to employ, forcing them to struggle with basic needs such as staffing entrances to screen employees and visitors entering the Library’s three Capitol Hill facilities.
But that agreement is set to expire in December, and the four unions expressed concern that returning to the previous structure could spell disaster for the agency, even if the hiring freeze were to be lifted.
“Historically, the Library’s police force has lagged behind the Capitol Police force in manpower, training, and equipment since the primary function of the Library’s force has been collection security,” the letter states. “While collection security is indeed a vital responsibility, we believe that a force organized as ‘book police’ cannot adequately protect the staff, public, or even the irreplaceable treasures of the Library, especially in the face of current terrorist threats.”
LOC Police Labor Committee Chairman Mark Timberlake said the merger is necessary to provide adequate protection of Capitol Hill.
“We still want this to go through,” Timberlake said. “This is vital.”
A spokesman for House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), whose panel has oversight of the Capitol Police, said the committee is currently awaiting the results of a task force convened under the November 2004 agreement to study the two departments.
In addition, the panel wants to review an anticipated report from the Library’s inspector general that will follow up on an August 2004 audit of the department that documented dozens of deficiencies in the police force.
“At that point the committee will assess how the long-term interests of the Library and the U.S. Capitol Police can be best achieved,” said committee spokesman Brian Walsh.
A spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee said the panel had received a copy of the letter, but declined to comment further.
“We received the letter. We’re aware of the issue and we’re reviewing it,” he said.