House and Senate lawmakers have agreed to fund more than 40 new Capitol Police officers in an attempt to bolster the Library of Congress’ law enforcement unit.
Under a provision included in the fiscal 2006 legislative branch spending bill, which both chambers approved last week, the Capitol Police will receive funds for an additional 43 officers who will be detailed to the Library’s police department.
Although in recent years the Library’s police force has dwindled to about 100 officers, two-thirds its authorized level, LOC officials have been barred from employing new officers under a hiring freeze implemented by Congress in the fiscal 2004 legislative branch appropriations bill.
As a result, the Capitol Police Department — composed of 1,600 sworn officers — has supplemented the LOC’s law enforcement agency with a contingent of more than two dozen officers since late 2004 under an agreement that also gave the department control of the day-to-day operations of the LOC’s police force. (The Librarian of Congress, however, maintains budgetary authority over the division.)
That agreement, intended as the first phase in a potential merger of the two departments, had been set to expire in December, but will be extended through fiscal 2006 under language included in the legislative branch spending bill.
The LOC Police Labor Committee praised the decision to supplement the department’s ranks.
“It will increase security at the Library and it will help alleviate some of the short-staffed posts that we have,” said Officer Mark Timberlake, who is chairman of the labor committee.
In the meantime, lawmakers are continuing to deliberate over the unification of the two police departments, an action mandated in the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill.
In a recent interview, House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), whose panel has oversight of the Capitol Police, explained that in the merger plan now under consideration, the Capitol Police would absorb the LOC unit, taking over responsibility for securing the agency’s buildings and grounds, while the LOC would maintain responsibility for the security of its collection of more than 126 million items, including the use of private security guards in its reading rooms.
In addition, the Capitol Police would create a fourth division of its Uniformed Services Bureau, adding a Library division to those responsible for the House, Senate and Capitol.
The proposal would also give the Capitol Police financial control over the Library’s officers, despite earlier requests by Librarian of Congress James Billington to retain fiscal responsibility.
The House Administration panel is expected to hold a public hearing to discuss the proposal following the August recess.
According to a report issued by the then-General Accounting Office in June 2002, a merger between the Library and Capitol Police forces could cost $15.2 million to $25.9 million.