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Appropriators Assert Authority Over Police

The House Appropriations Committee approved a legislative branch spending bill Thursday that would tighten Congressional control over the Capitol Police.

The measure — which would provide legislative branch agencies with a combined $2.9 billion in fiscal 2006, an increase of 1.5 percent over current levels — calls for the creation of an Office of Inspector General for the law enforcement agency and would also subject the department to financial disclosure laws under the Ethics in Government Act.

That law, which requires Members of Congress and staff to file disclosure reports with the Clerk of the House or the Secretary of the Senate, would likely apply only to senior officers and staff.

A House official said the provisions are intended to bring the Capitol Police into compliance with federal laws already applied to other legislative branch agencies.

The legislation also calls for the Capitol Police to provide semiannual disbursement reports to Congress detailing spending and receipts, as well as unexpended balances, and directs the Government Accountability Office to continue issuing its own semiannual reports on the agency.

“The Committee believes there are still many issues that need to be addressed by the USCP,” the report accompanying the spending bill states. “Considering the changes that have been provided [since 2001], the Committee needs assurance that the USCP has implemented all the legislative changes within the requirements of statute and intent of Congress.”

The House bill provides the agency $240 million in fiscal 2006, a decrease from its current $241 million budget, and significantly less than the $290 million the department had requested.

Falling victim to the cuts is the year-old Capitol Police mounted unit, which House appropriators removed from the spending bill.

Under the legislation, the department’s five horses — Justice, Honor, Freedom, Patriot and Tribute — along with related equipment would be transferred to the U.S. Park Police, which maintains its own equestrian division.

The Capitol Police had sought approximately $160,000 to fund the unit.

The spending bill would also eliminate funding for a new public information officer for the agency. A vacancy announcement put out by department officials earlier this year listed a six-figure salary for the post, which was to be filled by a civilian.

A police spokesman declined to comment on the proposals, citing department policy on pending legislation.

House appropriators also used the Thursday hearing to address funding of the Capitol Visitor Center, the 588,000-square-foot facility located beneath the East Front.

While lawmakers approved the Architect of the Capitol’s request for $36.9 million to complete construction of the project — which the AOC estimates will have cost $517 million when it opens to the public in late 2006 — the House bill does not include $35 million the office had sought for the facility’s operating expenses.

However, the House bill would create a new Capitol Visitor Center Governing Board to oversee day-to-day operations of the facility.

Under the legislation, the board would comprise the chairmen of the House Administration and Senate Rules and Administration panels, the ranking members of both committees, along with the Speaker and majority and minority leadership of both chambers, or their designees.

During the hearing, Appropriations ranking member David Obey (D-Wis.) harshly criticized the visitor center project, echoing statements he has previously made over the center’s design and questioning the amount of office space that will be available to House lawmakers.

“This is a spectacular boondoggle,” Obey said.

Several Members likewise disparaged management of the project, asserting that many decisions have been ceded to staff.

“This thing has been micromanaged by a handful of people, none of who are Members,” said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.).

Similarly, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) stated: “This problem with the visitor center is we haven’t been making most of these decisions.”

Under the House spending bill, the AOC would receive $317 million in fiscal 2006, less than the $506 million it had sought.

Among the AOC items that would not receive funding in the proposed budget are two new Library of Congress storage facilities, estimated to cost $40.7 million, that would be built in Fort Meade, Md.

Additionally, House officials included a provision in the report that accompanies the spending bill directing the AOC to implement a program to improve management of its workforce.

The directive also calls for the AOC’s chief financial officer to provide quarterly reports on the status of the program, which would estimate and monitor the use of full-time equivalent employees within the agency.

The House version of the bill would fund the Library of Congress at $553 million, a 1.4 percent increase over its current $545 million budget, but well below the $628 million outlined in its request.

The fiscal 2006 total includes a $5.5 million recision from the LOC’s National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program. Those funds will instead be used under the AOC’s budget to fund a renovation of the Copyright Office, which falls under the Library’s jurisdiction.

Additionally, in the report accompanying the appropriations bill, House lawmakers raised concerns over the distribution of awards under NDIIPP, asserting that Congress has received no prior notification when the LOC announces the grants.

“The Congress has fully supported this program and expects that the Library will take the necessary steps to ensure that when future grants are made that Members and the Committee on Appropriations of the House and Senate will receive appropriate advance notification,” the report states.

Under the House legislation, the Government Printing Office would likewise receive a small increase, 2.5 percent, to $123 million in fiscal 2006. The printing agency had requested $131.1 million for the coming fiscal year.

Although GPO officials had sought $5 million to provide to workforce “retraining” to current employees as the agency shifts to a digital platform, the bill provides only $1.2 million for the program.

The Government Accountability Office is slated to receive $482 million under the House bill, an increase of 3.2 percent over its fiscal 2005 budget.

The amount falls below the $493.5 million, or 4 percent increase, that Comptroller General David Walker had sought for the agency.

Under the House bill, the Congressional Budget Office would receive $35.5 million in fiscal 2006, a 2.3 percent increase over its current $34.6 million budget. The office had requested a slightly higher figure, $35.9 million in appropriations hearings earlier this year.

In addition, House lawmakers will increase funding for operations in their own chamber to $1.092 billion from $1.079 billion, a raise of 1.2 percent.

The bill — which does not include Senate operations funds — is expected to go to the House floor for approval by the full chamber this week.

The Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch is scheduled to mark up its version of the bill Thursday.

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